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Pep Guardiola paid tribute to Brighton after his Manchester City side held on for a slender 2-1 win over the Seagulls in the Premier League on Saturday.
The champions looked be cruising to victory as Julian Alvarez and Erling Haaland struck inside the opening 19 minutes at the Etihad Stadium but the visitors responded after the break.
Substitute Ansu Fati set up a nervy finish when he pulled a goal back in the 73rd minute and City were left clinging on when Manuel Akanji was sent off for a second bookable offence in stoppage time.
The victory stopped the rot after for City after successive league defeats prior to the international break.
“Against Brighton it’s impossible to control the game for 90, 95 minutes – no team in the world can do that,” said City manager Guardiola. “I’m surprised that we did it for 55, 60 minutes.
“We played an exceptional first half. We had more chances, we were aggressive in the link with the strikers.
“In the second half they closed the space. They are really good and when they have the ball it is almost impossible to take it. We suffered for 10, 15, 20, 25 minutes and then there was a period at the end of the game as well.
“After two defeats the performance was important but I give credit to Roberto (De Zerbi). When you see their games, his team is exceptional. They have a lot of injuries and that’s why I have pride in the team for the victory.”
To compound their defeat, Brighton saw their lengthy casualty list added to as Danny Welbeck and Solly March were forced off with muscular and knee problems respectively.
Manager De Zerbi admitted his side’s extra workload this season due to their involvement in the Europa League was taking its toll.
He said: “This is the worst thing today. We can lose Solly March for a long time and Welbeck I don’t know.
“We are playing a different sport this season. We are losing too many players. I think we are not ready to compete in this competition and we are adapting.”
De Zerbi felt his team gave a good account of themselves after a difficult start.
The Italian said: “We can speak of two parts of the game. The first part – there wasn’t the chance to play, because when City play like they do in first half it is not just very tough for Brighton but for everyone.
“But second half we played better, with more energy, courage and personality. We kept order on the pitch, especially without the ball and we had two or three chances to score again. That improvement is important.”
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