Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said last Friday that he wanted to see how his team react after dropping points in the English Premier League.
He gets his wish today when City host Watford following a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace on Sunday – only their second draw in the league.
The Spaniard would have extended his side’s winning streak to 19 had they defeated Roy Hodgson’s men, but he was quick to defend City’s rare slip-up.
“Eighteen wins in a row, that is not normal, unreal,” Guardiola said.
“The next one will not be easy. It is December, there are lot of fixtures to play. To play in four competitions and this level of intensity is impossible. Of course we cannot win every match.”
City travelled to Selhurst Park in London strongly fancied to match Bayern Munich’s record for the big five European leagues of 19 straight victories, set by Guardiola himself.
But in the end they were grateful to goalkeeper Ederson for keeping out Luka Milivojevic’s spot kick in injury time, after Wilfried Zaha was adjudged to have been brought down by Raheem Sterling.
The stalemate, however, did preserve City’s unbeaten league run this season, which stands at 21 games. But Guardiola was not pleased after seeing playmaker Kevin de Bruyne narrowly avoid serious injury and has demanded more protection for players.
The Belgium forward was stretchered off after being hacked down by Palace’s Jason Puncheon as City broke in search of a late winner following the penalty save.
De Bruyne’s injury is not as bad as first feared but Guardiola said he is unlikely to be ready to face Watford at the Etihad Stadium today.
There was worse news about City striker Gabriel Jesus, who hobbled off in the first half with a knee problem that will sideline the Brazilian for at least “one month, maybe two months”, the manager said.
His main concern, though, was the tackle by Puncheon. “I admire the physicality in the Premier League but the referees have to protect the players,” Guardiola said.
“There is a line where you go above and it is dangerous. Sometimes because the football is quicker and faster it happens, but players can be out for a long time.”
Meanwhile, Palace forward Zaha, who is the target of City, Chelsea and Arsenal, has declared that he has no intention of leaving the club.
City will now hope to get back to their winning ways today against the Hornets, whose manager Marco Silva is under pressure after nine losses in his last 13 games.