Man City stars Haaland and De Bruyne dropped to bench for Villa clash

  • Haaland and De Bruyne were both dropped after dropping below their best form
  • Phil Foden stepped up in their absence with a brilliant hat-trick for City 
  • Have a day off, Pep! Guardiola’s lecture to Grealish on the Etihad pitch was unnecessary, says Ian Ladyman – It’s All Kicking Off 

Manchester City stars Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne were surprisingly dropped to the bench for Wednesday’s clash with Aston Villa.

Top scorer Haaland had been branded a ‘League Two player’ after his lacklustre display in Sunday’s goalless home draw with Arsenal, while Belgian playmaker De Bruyne has also been below his best in recent weeks.

Jack Grealish and Jeremy Doku replaced them in the starting line-up at the Etihad.

Phil Foden shone in the absence of Haaland and De Bruyne, scoring a brilliant hat-trick in a 4-1 victory.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola told TNT Sports ahead of kick-off his decision to bench both players was part of a plan to manage their minutes.

Manchester City striker Erling Haaland was dropped to the bench for Aston Villa clash
Haaland was joined on the bench by Kevin De Bruyne (left) and John Stones (centre)

‘In two-and-a-half days we have another game at 12:30 [Crystal Palace away]’ the Man City boss said.

‘I think all the teams at the top have a big squad, a good squad, and of course we have it. Today we decided for this line-up for this tough opening and [we will] go for it.’

He said John Stones, who was also named among the substitutes, was fit, and would be available to come on for the hosts if required.

Guardiola’s move to drop both De Bruyne and Haaland was described as a ‘massive call’ before the match – though ultimately it was a risk that paid off for the Spaniard.

One fan said: ‘Massive call from Pep to drop both KDB & Erling. But neither have been at their best lately so maybe a rest is what they need. Looks like a really bright energetic forward line today.’

Another supporter added: ‘Surprised to see both De Bruyne and Haaland left out of the starting side. Unclear whether Haaland being left out is performance related and I assume KDB has been given a rest.’

A third said: ‘Not surprised at this given the heavy run of fixtures over the next few weeks, and let’s face it KDB hasn’t looked his best self as of late so, better to rest from the start and come on if needed. Should be good enough to get the job done.’

On Tuesday, Guardiola had hit back at Keane after the former Man United captain described Haaland ‘s all-round game as being reminiscent of a League Two striker.

Keane’s scathing assessment of the Norwegian striker came after Manchester City were held to a goalless draw by Arsenal at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon.

The Premier League ‘s top scorer endured a frustrating afternoon against the Gunners’ thrifty defence which restricted him to few touches in the game.

Keane felt that the performance at the Etihad was indicative of Haaland’s overall quality in open play and demanded that his all-round game improve.

However, Guardiola defended Haaland by insisting Manchester City’s lack of firepower was not the 23-year-old’s fault.

‘I don’t agree with him, absolutely not,’ said Guardiola when he was asked about Keane’s comments regarding Haaland. ‘It’s like if I said he’s a manager for the second or third league.’

‘He’s the best striker in the world and he helped us win what we won last season. The reason why we didn’t create many chances [vs Arsenal] was not Erling, it’s that we need more presence in the final third with more people.

‘We played an exceptional game, I reviewed the game against Arsenal, but we missed more people in the final third maybe for the quality and skills that we have. Erling is exceptional.

Haaland failed to have an impact in the goalless draw with Arsenal on Sunday

‘I’m surprised this came from a former player. From journalists, I can understand, never been on the pitch but former players is always a surprise. It’s like the referees when they retire they criticise the referees.

‘How difficult is that business for the players? It always surprises me. Their memory disappears quickly. The problems the players have, they had. They missed a thousand, million times and they were hurt when they were criticised by the former players.

‘But today is what it is. We have to accept it and move forward. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future but I’m not going to criticise my colleagues when I retire. ‘Should be this, should be that, could do that’ – I could do it now and I don’t do it. But everyone has to live for something.

Roy Keane (left) slammed the 23-year-old's general play and demanded that he improve

‘Players have to accept it, it’s the job. If you don’t want to accept it you have to do another job. When you’re this public figure you have to accept it.’

When asked why he thinks Haaland’s goal return has slowed down – having scored just once in six attempts against the top five sides this season – Guardiola said it was down to the team.

‘Sometimes he misses, sometimes lack of supply, sometimes instructions from the managers, sometimes the opponent is really good,’ said Guardiola. ‘In football there is not just one reason, there are many. Football is a team sport, it’s not individual like golf or tennis.’

 

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