Sunday 6 November 2016 10:56, UK
Marten de Roon’s stoppage-time equaliser gave Middlesbrough an unlikely point at Manchester City and left Pep Guardiola cursing his side’s misfortune. But the slip ups are becoming familiar. Could they prove costly or is this false hope for their title rivals?
For 45 minutes at the Etihad Stadium, the gulf between City and Middlesbrough appeared vast. Nineteen shots to nil with 78.5 per cent possession for the home side. "It is crazy," said Boro's Marten de Roon afterwards. "The first half we hardly touched the ball."
What made it crazy is that 45 minutes later the scoreline showed parity. One goal apiece. Sergio Aguero alone might have had more shots on target than the visitors but Aitor Karanka's men hung in there and De Roon's stoppage-time header made him the hero.
Marten de Roon's stoppage-time header earned Middlesbrough a 1-1 draw at Manchester City
There were boos from the City fans at the final whistle. It was harsh but reflected the frustration. Not for the first time, their team had forgotten to score a second goal. This was a third consecutive 1-1 draw at home for Guardiola in the Premier League.
It means City have already failed to win more home games this season than in both of their Premier League title wins. It suggests a lack of ruthlessness that could prove costly. A week that began with an historic win over Barcelona ends by surrendering top spot.
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The attacking statistics suggest time will restore them to the top. It's not only passing and possession in which City lead the way. They've created the most chances and most clear-cut chances; they've completed more dribbles and had the most touches in the opposition box.
But the flaws are equally apparent. No team has made more mistakes leading to shots on their own goal. Only four teams have kept fewer clean sheets. Worryingly for some supporters, such fragility appears a natural consequence of Guardiola's approach.
Even Fernandinho's decision to attempt to control Victor Valdes's punt upfield with his feet rather than head the ball away ahead of Boro's equalising goal was an indication of the mentality of this City side. On this occasion, possession squirmed away from the Brazilian.
Of course, the conversation has moved beyond a referendum on Guardiola's philosophy after every poor result. His way works, but it is still fair to discuss the consequences of his ambition. Guardiola will not apologise for his style but decisions are likely to weigh on him.
For example, was withdrawing Ilkay Gundogan and replacing him with Nolito really the way to maximise the chances of victory? When a backwards step was taken with five minutes to go and Jesus Navas was substituted, was the inexperienced Aleix Garcia the right choice?
The young Spanish midfielder is a talented and tidy passer of the ball but he struggled to clear in the build-up to Boro's goal before being unable to get close enough to George Friend to stop the cross. Might Vincent Kompany have been a better option off the bench?
Even in Nicolas Otamendi's absence, the club captain finds himself behind Aleksandar Kolarov in the pecking order at centre-back, but perhaps it would have been prudent to include him late on - potentially for Gael Clichy - as Boro pushed in the latter stages.
Guardiola cannot have been surprised to see his side tested aerially late on. "I didn't realise how difficult it is," he said of his first game in charge against Sunderland. "You aren't safe until the referee says: 'OK, you can go home now.' Long ball, free kick, throw-in, long ball."
And yet, City remain susceptible. Chelsea are the next visitors to the Etihad Stadium and they now go into the international break above Guardiola's men in the Premier League table. The trip to Manchester will be made in expectation as well as hope.
For while, City have shown flashes of the quality that could see them dominate this league, there's a vulnerability that lingers too. Guardiola must work to show that City's slips are blips rather than a habitual knack for making errors they're destined to repeat.