Manchester City are four points clear at the top and in control of the Premier League title race, but their manager Pep Guardiola still wasn’t happy after his side’s 2-1 win over Leeds.
Goal machine Erling Haaland and match winner Ilkay Gundogan were the players who felt his wrath with Guardiola reminding them that “this is a business” after seeing a late penalty miss allow Sam Allardyce’s side back into the game.
Leading 2-0 with six minutes to go, City were cruising towards a 10th-successive victory and were handed a chance to wrap up the points when Phil Foden was fouled in the box.
Step forward the deadliest finisher in the land – their prolific 51-goal striker and regular at spot-kicks, Haaland… or so you would think.
Instead, Haaland handed the ball to Gundogan, who was on a hat-trick after scoring both of those earlier goals.
Gundogan hit the post, and 58 seconds later Leeds went up the other end to make it 2-1 – ensuring a nervy finish to a game that City had completely controlled.
The decision did not go down well with his manager, who made it clear to both players that he had wanted Haaland to take the penalty.
“First he [Guardiola] showed to Erling that he was quite mad about that and then also he had a go at me,” Gundogan explained. “It is what it is in the end.
“The moment Erling grabbed the ball, I was sure he was going to take it but he looked out for me. I checked with him a few times to make sure he was sure. He was certain to hand the ball to me. I was confident to score. I can’t even remember if the keeper saved it or it was the post?
“We should have scored a third. This is sometimes how it is that they go on the counter and score. Things can change, momentum can shift. But we dealt quite well with it and deserved the three points.”
Guardiola had calmed down a little by the time he faced the media after the match but he was still adamant Haaland should have taken the penalty, given the situation his side were in.
“The game is not over,” Guardiola said. “It shows how nice and generous Erling is. If it is 4-0 with 10 minutes left, OK.
“But at 2-0? At 2-0, especially in England, it is never over.
“Erling is the best penalty taker right now so he has to take it. I want the player who is the taker, because they have more routine and a specialism. He has maybe taken 10 or 11 penalties and he had the feeling – Gundogan does not have that right now.
“I admire the fact Gundogan wanted the responsibility to take the penalty – that is the best value in a player – but normally the taker is the taker, and Erling had to take it because he is our specialist.
“Today Erling could have scored two or three goals. He played incredibly well, in his movement and how he fought for us. I like to praise him when he does not score.
“If Gundogan scores the penalty everyone is ‘OK, hat-trick, well done’. But a taker is a taker. At 2-0, this is a business, not a situation where we cannot forget it.”
City have now gone 20 games unbeaten in all competitions and this victory was another step towards their third successive Premier League title, part of their bid for a Treble that also includes the FA Cup and Champions League.
They have played catch-up to Arsenal for most of the season and trailed the Gunners by eight points in January but, with both sides left with four games to play, they have opened up a significant lead for the first time – not that they are taking anything for granted.
“Probably the best warning about that is today,” Gundogan added.
“But we have an experienced team and have had these kind of run-ins in recent years. We know what to do to keep the momentum going and win games. Nothing more but also nothing less.”