No winning mentality? Man City prove Guardiola right to remain in control of the title race

Jack Grealish Manchester City 2021-22Getty Images

The knives had been sharpening for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.

Despite almost having the Premier League title wrapped up, their dramatic exit from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid had opened the floodgates for criticism to flow through.

Dimitar Berbatov claimed that City had a "small mindset" with "no winning mentality", while his former Manchester United team-mate Patrice Evra accused Guardiola of having no back-up plan when things go wrong for City.

And when City went in at half-time 2-0 down to West Ham on Sunday, there was a chance that, despite Guardiola's protestations a few days earlier, those opinions would be vindicated.

Guardiola, though, was right to snap back.

Jack Grealish's deflected volley and a Vladimir Coufal own goal might have meant that City's fight-back to claim a 2-2 draw at the London Stadium came with a decent helping of luck, but it was no more than they deserved for the way they turned it on after the break.

"We just have to just to win one more game and if we don’t, Liverpool will be champions," was the simple message from the City boss after the game, but it does not tell the tale of how they got to that position.

It is a scenario that Guardiola would have been more than happy with for the final match of the season back in March, when the Reds closed the gap to just a single point.

And he definitely would have taken it midway through their final away game of the season after Jarrod Bowen's first-half double.

Gabriel Jesus Manchester City GFX
Getty Images

But that was when Guardiola's technical and talented squad had to show their grit and bravery to maintain an advantage on the title race.

Step forward Grealish - the £100-million man who is jeered and barracked at every Premier League ground, but still possesses the strength of mind to hit a first time volley from the edge of the box when most others would have at least taken a touch first.

Step forward Aymeric Laporte, City's bandaged up centre-back that gritted his teeth to win a painful free-kick that led to Coufal flicking Riyad Mahrez's cross into his own net for the equaliser.

Step forward Fernandinho, the 37-year-old midfielder plunged into the centre of defence, who never gave up in a battling brawl with Michail Antonio.

It could have been even better had Mahrez scored an 87th-minute penalty that was saved by Lukasz Fabianski, but boy could it have been a lot worse too.

Pep Guardiola Manchester City GFX
Getty Images

Overall, Sunday's was not a great performance from City, with a slow build-up too often shut down while lacklustre defending allowed Bowen to twice catch them on the break.

But, staring down the barrel, they somehow managed to drag themselves to a point that could prove crucial in the final reckoning.

"At half-time we would have taken a draw all day long," Grealish admitted. "We recover now and have good days of training and look to win on Sunday.

"You want to make it as easy as you can for yourselves. We have a great home record, all our fans will be behind it, it will be a great day. Fingers crossed we can go and get the win."

That final day will see Grealish face his former club Aston Villa, now managed by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, who will be desperate to do his old club a favour.

But City have given themselves the advantage and could even win the title on Tuesday night if Jurgen Klopp's side lose at Southampton.

Mohamed Salah Liverpool GFX
Getty Images

Liverpool looked tired at the end of their FA Cup final victory over Chelsea having lost the influential Virgil van Dijk and Mohammed Salah to slight injuries, though those damaged muscles must have been twitching with energy at around 3pm on Sunday afternoon.

Guardiola does not expect their rivals to slip up at St Mary's and believes a thrilling title race deserves to go the last day.

"I said to the players after the game that we could not expect any different against a team fighting to win the Premier League that is one of the most perfect teams I have seen in my life," he said.

Article continues below

"Against this Liverpool you cannot win the league a month ago or two or three fixtures ago. You have to fight until the end.

"They fought, we fight and the big privilege we have is that it is in our hands at home. We only have to look at ourselves and we will give everything."

City have the quality and talent to beat Villa, but if it turns into a scrap, Guardiola will still back his side then too.