Pep Guardiola warns 'don't criticise' Erling Haaland as Man City star returns to form

Norwegian scores in nervy win over Brentford to move City to within one point of leaders Liverpool

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Pep Guardiola lauded Erling Haaland for silencing his critics as the Norwegian scored the only goal of a nervy 1-0 win for Manchester City over Brentford on Tuesday that lifted them closer to the top.

City moved to within a point of leaders Liverpool, with third-placed Arsenal one point further back with 13 games to go.

Three days earlier, Haaland had pushed a camera in frustration after failing to score with nine shots in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea. But he was back in form, increasing his league tally to 17 goals to erase any doubts about his scoring touch.

The Norwegian had only recently returned from a two-month injury layoff and Guardiola revealed he was also coping with the loss of his grandmother.

On Tuesday, Haaland raced onto Julian Alvarez's pass to slot in his 22nd goal of the season 19 minutes from time.

"Top strikers score a lot of goals. Don't criticise, he will shut your mouth. Sooner or later he is there," manager Guardiola said.

"He was out for two months, he lost his grandmother, it is not easy for a human being.

"We spoke about the moment (missing chances against Chelsea), and I realised this later, but he didn't say anything about the passing away of his grandmother.

"In this type of game like Brentford, you need Erling. With not much space, you can play with a typical striker."

City struggled to break down a determined Brentford side. Kevin De Bruyne was kept on the bench throughout, not even emerging to warm up with the game in the balance. Guardiola revealed the Belgian playmaker had a hamstring issue, having already missed five months of the season.

"Today we could not use Kevin because he had niggles in his hamstring and I didn't want to take risk," he said, adding: "He's okay. It's just a precaution but he didn't feel comfortable and so after five months off we didn't take any risk."

Brentford had defended doggedly before the goal, more than once having all 11 players inside their own box in open play. Bernardo Silva headed a glorious chance wide before Oscar Bobb created space only to shoot straight at Flekken, but otherwise there were few real opportunities.

Having taken six points off City last season, Brentford threatened to do damage to their title bid again this time before Haaland stepped in.

Brentford missed a huge early opportunity when Frank Onyeka ran onto a pass from Yoane Wissa but shot straight at City's keeper Ederson.

"It wasn’t easy. We scored a goal on the counter-attack," City defender Manuel Akanji said. "The defender (Kristoffer Ajer) slipped early and the efficiency was there (from Haaland). He scored a great goal.

"We know how hard it is to play against Brentford, with their back five. That’s why we tried to attack and we didn’t run into too many counter-attacks. I can’t remember too many big chances they had.

"After the weekend we had to show a reaction and I feel we did that. Now we have to improve game by game."

Brentford manager Thomas Frank lamented the misstep that led to Haaland's goal.

"It was an unlucky situation, if Kristoffer doesn't slip, I'm convinced it was never going to be a goal," said Frank. "Haaland is quick, but Kristoffer is just as quick and it would never have been a goal. City are good enough with their quality, they don't need the margins going their way. I think we needed it more than them."

Updated: February 21, 2024, 5:31 AM