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The Briefing: Man City 1 Brentford 0 – Haaland’s intervention and Pep’s long-term thinking

Manchester City overcame Brentford 1-0 to move within a point of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.

City struggled to break Brentford down during the first half, with only one chance threatening the visiting goal. Oscar Bobb broke into the box and dribbled past Brentford defenders. His shot was low and beat opposition goalkeeper Mark Flekken, only for the ball to be cleared off the line by Ben Mee.

The hosts still struggled to make solid chances in the second half of the game. That all changed, though, when Erling Haaland was played through on goal in the 71st minute. Haaland slotted the ball low past Flekken to put City into the lead.

Here, Sam Lee analyses an important win for City in the race for the title.

Frustration creeps in at the Etihad

One thing that stood out about this game was the similarity in atmosphere inside the Etihad Stadium and the performance on the pitch. For much of the game, everything the City players did was rushed, imprecise and impatient, and the frustration in the crowd — and the fans’ impatience — was not just palpable but overwhelming.

Haaland’s goal came at a very opportune moment for everybody of a blue persuasion because it is hard to imagine City’s performance or the fans’ mood even staying at the same level, let alone improving, had the big Norwegian not done the business.

Guardiola attempts to get the crowd onside (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Things were already bubbling away in the first half when the City fans demanded Ederson to play the ball forward quickly, only for Guardiola to tell them all to calm down with his universal gesture.

After the break, as the crowd sang ‘Come on, City!’ — which is normally reserved for when the team is not playing to the desired standard and there is frustration in the air — Guardiola tried to gee them up.

It seemed that nothing gelled properly and nothing was done at the right speed.

Haaland’s intervention could prove crucial

And so the importance of Haaland’s goal cannot be overstated.

Unlike on Saturday, when he was presented with several decent opportunities to score a goal and paper over some cracks in City’s performance against Chelsea, he had little to feed off here against Brentford but did exactly what he was supposed to do.

His mood seems to have suffered of late, with Guardiola criticising the striker’s body language after City beat Everton (when, again, they did not play well but Haaland was the difference) and then after the Chelsea draw on Saturday, he pushed away a camera.

For a striker who is regularly praised by his team-mates for his relaxed approach to taking chances and is always certain that he will score the next one — Haaland often laughs when he misses a chance in a game — he has seemed to let things on the pitch get to him a little more of late.

And as he ran through on goal, having buried a similar chance against Everton but also missed several similar opportunities throughout the season, there must have been some doubts in the crowd over whether the goal would come. Fortunately for City, it did.

City will obviously need more of them in the coming months — but even more so if they continue to struggle against teams as they have done in the last three league games here.

The long-term thinking of City’s line-up

There were the usual surprise when Guardiola’s team news leaked out via the FPL accounts, with Bobb, Julian Alvarez and Manuel Akanji starting and Kevin De Bruyne and Nathan Ake on the bench.

On Tuesday, Guardiola was asked whether John Stones is fit enough to play two games in a week, having not started against Chelsea, to which he replied: “He can do it but also Manu (Akanji) needs to come back to his form. In the game we played previously against Everton, Manu was not in his best rhythm and we need everyone in his best rhythm.”

Akanji was selected by his manager in order to get back into the swing of things (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

It shone a light on just how important it is to rotate the squad at this time of year in an attempt to get as many players as possible in top shape for the big push. Due to the 1-1 draw against Chelsea at the weekend, it feels as if that period has started already, and perhaps it was a decision that had negative consequences in the here and now.

But these line-ups are put together for many reasons, including obvious factors such as form and the specific strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. And while it might go a little more under the radar, ensuring players are ready to give everything in the crunch months of April and May has been a key part of City’s success over the years. It is generally a situation that Guardiola and his team manage very well.

The Manchester City vs Brentford match dashboard shows how heavily City were camped in their opponents’ half

What did Guardiola say?

We will bring you this after the City manager has spoken at his post-match press conference.

What next for City?

Saturday, February 24: Bournemouth (A), Premier League, 5.30pm GMT, 12.30pm ET

It was 6-1 to City when these two met in November at the Etihad, and Bournemouth have never beaten them in 20 attempts (losing 18 times) since the first match in what is now the Championship in December 1987.

City have won 11 in a row, with the most recent draw coming 25 years ago this month, in the season which ended in that play-off final against Gillingham.

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(Top photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

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