BURNLEY, England — Pep Guardiola absolved Raheem Sterling of the blame for Manchester City’s failure to win at Burnley.
Sterling side-footed wide in front of an open goal in the second half when City was leading through Danilo’s strike on Saturday. Burnley made the most of the reprieve, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson snatching a 1-1 draw in the 82nd minute as City dropped points for only the fourth time in the English Premier League.
It allowed second-place Manchester United to close the gap on Guardiola’s side by beating Huddersfield 2-0 — but only to 13 points with 12 games remaining.
“It is football,” Guardiola said. “Next day (Sterling) is going to score a goal. Raheem scored against Southampton in the 96th minute (in a 2-1 win in November). Today he missed one chance. That can happen.”
City’s invisibility is slipping — failing to win its last three away games, including Liverpool inflicting its first loss of the campaign. But City has the luxury of a lead that looks likely to deliver the team’s third Premier League title since 2012.
“We are sad for the dropped two points, but to come here and play the way we played is almost impossible,” Guardiola said. “We controlled the long balls and we made an amazing buildup. Doing it in Burnley it is so complicated.
“What we have done today is — wow — one of the best performances we have done this season by far. We controlled many situations. That is why I am optimistic.”
Despite the wealth of talent, City’s matchday squad was depleted and Guardiola was able to name only six substitutes.
With John Stones and David Silva this week joining Fabian Delph, Benjamin Mendy, Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane on the sidelines, City was short on numbers. Even youngster Lukas Nmecha, recently added to the first-team squad as cover, was unavailable.
“We didn’t have any more players,” Guardiola said. “They are injured. I would like to have 18 players, but we had 17. I could have called one of the second team, but we decided they were not going to play.”
City’s breakthrough came from an unusual source in the 22nd minute after Sterling won a corner. The set-piece was taken short and Kevin De Bruyne found Danilo in space outside the area. The Brazilian picked his spot and delivered a superb shot beyond goalkeeper Nick Pope.
City continued to press and Sergio Aguero had an effort blocked before Sterling and De Bruyne shot at the keeper.
Burnley was far more direct than City and made efficient use of limited possession to create a couple of chances. On both occasions Ben Mee might have done better as he first forced a save from Ederson from a lobbed ball into the box and then headed wide following a corner.
City looked to kill off the game early in the second half but Burnley’s back line held firm, denying Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan a sight of goal before Sterling fired over. City even looked to Danilo again as frustration grew but this time Pope tipped over.
Burnley retained a threat on the break and almost snatched an equalizer when Aaron Lennon’s thunderous shot was touched onto the post by Ederson.
That injected more urgency into City and Sterling should have scored when he was picked out in front of an open goal by Kyle Walker but somehow he sidefooted wide.
Burnley’s defense would not yield as its attacking threat grew — culminating in Gudmundsson turning in Matt Lowton’s deep cross.
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