Pep Guardiola and Manchester City weren’t at their clinical best but still had little trouble beating Fulham 2-0 on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium.
Some of the manager’s personnel decisions raised some eyebrows. For one thing, Guardiola rested Aymeric Laporte again and used John Stones for a third-straight outing.
For another, despite the congested schedule and relative health at the club, Guardiola didn’t make a single substitution. And unlike their injury-hit opening to the season, Man City’s quality on the bench was superb.
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Yet Ferran Torres, Bernardo Silva, Laporte, and Phil Foden were all rested, Guardiola not making a single sub despite having sewn up its Champions League group at midweek and not needing anything from Wednesday’s visit from Marseille.
Guardiola was clearly a bit miffed that City scored just two goals despite 69 percent of the ball and 16 shot attempts, six which were on target.
“The finishing was wasteful,” Guardiola said after Raheem Sterling’s early goal and Kevin De Bruyne’s penalty led the effort. “We know we have to improve this, but it’s important to keep creating the chances. In the last 20 minutes we lost too many simple balls, which is a problem. We have to do the simple things better. That is the next step. … Sterling scored a goal and won a penalty. It’s important for the players up front to be scoring goals.”
The Catalan wizard might’ve summed up his decision to play John Stones over Aymeric Laporte, his best and most complete defender, in some of his pre-matchcomments on goal scorer Raheem Sterling.
“Every game is an opportunity for everyone, not just him” Guardiola said prior to the game. “Another chance, football is now, not tomorrow or two hours or before. We start again.”
As for Stones, Ruben Dias and he were City’s CB pairing for the third-straight match.
The center back knows the demands Guardiola places on his men.
“We’re all fighting for our places on the team, no matter what position,” Stones said after the win. “When we get our chance we’ve got to take it. It gives us good healthy competition, the winning spirit, the demands, we know what is expected of us when we’re out on the pitch. If we don’t deliver someone else is always fighting for that spot. I think that’s what’s done us well in the last four, five years. Everyone has high standards and tries to keep them there. That’s what the manager wants and demands for us.”
Guardiola may not be troubled to change his defense for a bit now.
“We struggled at the beginning of the season for many reasons,” Guardiola said. “Now four games, four clean sheets. It’s so important for us to maintain this solidity.”