Manchester City falls one point behind after Haaland punishes Brentford

On 71 minutes, Manchester City celebrates while Brentford mourns. Thomas Frank’s defending with 10 and waiting for a breakaway attack frustrated the champions, who seemed clueless.

The hosts’ impressive performance resulted in Rúben Dias finding Rodri near their area. The player passed to Julián Álvarez, who squared the ball to the ineffective Erling Haaland. Kristoffer Ajer fell as he rushed in, and the dangerous 23-year-old beat Mark Flekken to the goalkeeper’s right from inside the D.

Even though Flekken appeared at a 95th-minute City corner, the game was done. Haaland’s winner, which means he has scored against all 21 Premier League teams he has played, pulls City a point behind Liverpool and makes their trip to Anfield on 10 March a pivotal match that will determine their fate. Prepare for that one.

Haaland was criticized for missing chances against Chelsea on Saturday. “If I have to choose one [to score in], I choose this one,” remarked Pep Guardiola. Don’t criticize top strikers—they score lots of goals. He arrives eventually. Two months out and losing his grandmother last Saturday week is hard for a person.

“We struggle against Brentford. We dropped six points against them last season. Erling is needed in these games.”

After a second hard downpour, City’s pitch was slick enough to play.

The Premier League hype machine made much of their two dropped points against Chelsea, but that draw made it nine unbeaten in the league, with Guardiola’s side the greatest in the country for 3 years at evaluating their run to the tape in late May. Unbeaten 10 times now.

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Guardiola chose a rare 4-2-3-1 with Bernardo Silva and Rodri, who often attacked to crowd their opponents’ zone. Haaland stomped on Sergio Reguilón, dispossessed him, pivoted, and aimed a sighter that Flekken easily gathered. The Brentford goalie then stopped a Phil Foden missile at a corner, allowing Frank’s side to escape.

Chelsea had thrived against City with their swift counter, so Frank Onyeka’s run down an inside-left channel was expected. The midfielder, latching on to Yoane Wissa’s ball, had to be more decisive than Ederson’s poor effort.

After Dias challenged, Onyeka claimed a free-kick and Guardiola dropped to his haunches, a show of tension. After Reguilón passed to Ivan Toney, the centre-forward shot high.

The latter is the nightmare package of strength, control, pace, and cleverness for defenders, as John Stones discovered when he was backed into, barged aside, and forced to watch the ball be laid off.

City controlled approximately 70% of the ball, thus Brentford were besieged. Stones dropped a lob for a running Kyle Walker, whose header found Silva, but Silva missed from close range.

Dias again missed with his forehead from even closer when Rodri picked him out at the far post after Flekken turned over a Manuel Akanji 20-yard dipper. Ben Mee’s goalline clearance drew Flekken’s hug, and Oscar Bobb coolly dropped a shoulder and fired low and hard in traffic.

City would have been miffed if an Onyeka header had beat Ederson. Kevin De Bruyne waited on the bench. Guardiola explained his stay. Since Kevin had hamstring niggles, I didn’t risk using him today. The manager felt it was preventative, but he didn’t feel comfortable after five months off with a hamstring injury, so we didn’t risk it.

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Guardiola removed his coat for the second half, devoting himself to a win that would put City on Liverpool’s shoulders. Brentford made the game scrappy despite his halftime instructions.

Multiple times, he yelled at his charges. Brentford lost the reverse encounter to a Foden hat-trick two weeks earlier. This time, City was nearly chaotic.

Silva punted a free-kick sideways and out, the low point. Guardiola replaced Bobb with Jérémy Doku, hoping his raw pace would be the difference. After chipping to Haaland, the Norwegian’s arm hit Mee, Darren England blew, and City were again down.

Haaland’s 17th league goal of the season made City’s night bright. Frank said, “Our performance gives me hope for the future.” The red half of Merseyside feels the contrary.

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