Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola urged officials to better protect his star players after a 3-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday.
The result left his side with a commanding 15-point lead at the top of the Premier League but Guardiola was unhappy with a series of challenges, the worst of which saw Matt Phillips booked for a high-flying lunge at young City substitute Brahim Diaz.
The incident followed City’s FA Cup victory at Cardiff on Sunday where Leroy Sane suffered an ankle ligament injury which will sideline him for up to seven weeks — prompting Guardiola’s call for his players’ protection.
However, he was in a more conciliatory mood on Wednesday, although he did have an animated discussion with fourth official Kevin Friend on the final whistle.
“I’ve said what I said so we spoke with Kevin, the fourth official,” Guardiola told reporters. “They have an opinion, I have another one, they’re the bosses, I accept that. I have to accept it.”
The Spaniard added: “Today we were lucky, three or four days ago we were unlucky with Leroy.
“The image speaks for itself. I could repeat what I said after the last game but it’s not necessary. The chat was good, that’s all.”
Guardiola was also unhappy with a late lunge by James McClean on Kevin De Bruyne, which earned the West Brom man a yellow card, and an Allan Nyom foul on Kyle Walker.
– ‘Poor challenge’ –
But Albion manager Alan Pardew believed Guardiola’s weekend comments had provoked City supporters into trying to put pressure on referee Bobby Madley in a bid to get him to hand out harsher treatment to the visitors than might otherwise have been the case.
Pardew also pointed out that City were not faultless, highlighting an early incident in which home midfielder Fernandinho appeared to stamp on Grzegorz Krychowiak, who had to be replaced later in the first half.
“He’s a winger and in desperate situations wingers can make poor challenges. It was a poor challenge, make no mistake about that,” said Pardew of Phillips’s challenge.
“But I think Fernandinho made a similar one in the middle of the pitch. I’m not sure if the referee saw it.
“I thought Pep’s comments at the weekend affected the crowd. Every challenge, they were saying ‘you’re not protecting our players, referee!’.
“There were a few songs sung about him but I actually thought he (Madley) had a decent game.”
Officiating aside, it was a routine victory for Guardiola’s team, with goals from Fernandinho, De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero sealing victory.
– ‘Amazing joy’ –
Their efforts also took City’s goal tally for the season to 101, an astonishing mark before the end of January, although Guardiola was conscious that his team missed a host of chances — Raheem Sterling in particular — and the manager warned they were chances which better teams would have punished his side for wasting.
“When you ask me what he (Sterling) can improve – that (finishing)!” said Guardiola, whose side remains in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple of Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League titles in the one season.
“When he is able to improve that he will be a top-class player, so I’m happy because today what I feel is this is one of the best performances we played this season.
“To play better than we played today is difficult but in knockout games, or cup finals, or Arsenal in the (League Cup) final, we need to be more clinical in front of goal or we will be in trouble.
“We create an amazing amount of joy — to watch these guys play, the joy they have to play in that way — but we miss a lot of chances and against the top teams it will be a problem if we are not able to improve.”