MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Pep Guardiola celebrated like Manchester City had won the Premier League title.
Erling Haaland celebrated like Sergio Aguero.
It is early November and this was a 2-1 home win against Fulham – but the reaction from the reigning champions underlined the sense of relief within the Etihad Stadium on a day of high tension.
While the top of the table was at stake, and not discounting the late drama of Haaland’s stoppage- time penalty for 10-man City, these are early days in the season. It is unlikely two dropped points would be too damaging to Guardiola’s ambitions.
But, to him, this was the latest evidence that his players are ready to go again.
With only one more round of league games to go before the start of the World Cup, his team ran the risk of losing ground on early pace-setter Arsenal.
This was also the chance to take advantage in a weekend when rivals are destined to drop points, with Arsenal facing Chelsea and Tottenham taking on Liverpool on Sunday.
It was perhaps with that in mind that City’s manager reacted so emotionally – embracing Kevin De Bruyne on the field and ordering his players to thank the fans.
Moments earlier Haaland swung his shirt in the air after converting his penalty to bring back memories of Aguero’s celebrations after firing City to its first Premier League title 10 years ago.
“We didn’t win the Premier League today, of course,” said manager Guardiola. “But in this moment it makes sense of our job for all of us.
“To see the faces of the crowd when we were on the pitch, it was really good.”
Guardiola has spoken in recent weeks of maintaining the levels his team has set over a five-year period in which he has won four Premier League titles.
Down to 10 men from the 26th minute, when Joao Cancelo was sent off for a professional foul on Harry Wilson, his players provided an emphatic response, dominating the play throughout and pushing for a late winner.
It also helps to have the talent of Haaland to bring off the bench when in search of a game-changer.
The Norwegian striker, who missed the previous two games with a foot injury, was summoned after 64 minutes and City’s threat level immediately increased.
So did the atmosphere, with Haaland’s arrival sparking almost as big a cheer as Julian Alvarez’s 17th-minute goal that put the home team in front.
Haaland was needed after Cancelo’s foul on Wilson saw Fulham awarded a penalty, which Andreas Pereira converted.
City look a completely different team with Haaland at the point of attack, and he soon had the ball in the back of the net when heading in De Bruyne’s cross from close range. But VAR cut the celebrations short.
Ultimately, it only added to the sense of drama, with Fulham defender Antonee Robinson succumbing to the pressure of trying to keep City at bay and bringing down De Bruyne in the box deep into time added on.
Haaland converted, even if goalkeeper Bernd Leno got a touch.
“The penalty was not the best penalty I have seen in my life,” said Guardiola. “But he hit it strong.
“If it’s soft it’s 50-50. If it’s strong it’s 75-30…mathematics is not my strong point.”
FRANK COMPLAINS AFTER COACH’S ALTERCATION WITH GROUNDSMAN
Brentford boss Thomas Frank said his goalkeeping coach was injured after a pre-match altercation with a Nottingham Forest groundsman.
Frank claimed Manu Sotelo had marks on him after an argument with a member of the groundstaff before kick-off in the 2-2 draw.
PA Sport reports the Football Association is aware of the incident and will await referee Andre Marriner’s report.
Frank said: “It surprised me a little bit, not that I am an experienced Premier League manager, but in all my time in football and especially all my time in the Premier League I have never, ever, ever seen a groundsman walking around in the middle of our warm-up doing things.”
WOLVES TO HIT THE MARKET
New Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui has been told he needs new recruits to turn the season around.
Caretaker boss Steve Davis made his assessment after his team lost 3-2 to Brighton, with Pascal Gross hitting a late winner.
“If I was in his shoes I would be looking to increase the numbers with some quality,” he said on the day Lopetegui’s appointment was announced.
Jesse Marsch hailed Leeds’ spirit after a dramatic 4-3 win against Bournemouth.
Crysencio Summerville’s 84th-minute goal settled a thrilling contest that swung from end to end.
It ensured back-to-back wins for Leeds after last week’s victory against Liverpool.
“From my first day here, what you see is real belief and real commitment and a real understanding that it takes every ounce of our being to compete and be good in this league,” said manager Marsch. “We still have a long way to go to consistently be the team that I want us to be, but in the meantime we know that we have commitment.”
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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson