Manchester City were left fuming at Manchester United’s controversial equaliser after letting slip a lead to go down 2-1 at Old Trafford and let their neighbours into the title race.
Jack Grealish had headed City in front just before the hour but the game changed in the 78th minute when Bruno Fernandes fired United level.
The flag went up for offside after Marcus Rashford initially ran on to Casemiro’s through-ball, but the England forward did not touch the ball and, after speaking to assistant Darren Cann, referee Stuart Atwell awarded the goal, deeming Rashford had not interfered with play.
“The first goal is a joke it can be allowed,” defender Manuel Akanji told BBC Sport. “He runs to the last second and stops when the ball is right in front of him and right in front of Eddy (Ederson) to score the goal.
“He runs for 30 metres, he’s chasing the ball. It’s clearly offside. In the situation, I played him (Rashford) offside, but he plays until the last second. I understand he doesn’t touch the ball, but for me it is clearly offside.”
Guardiola said Rashford’s run clearly impacted the reactions of both Akanji and Ederson.
“The decision is the referee’s, the VAR, (but) our defenders make a line (for Rashford),” he said. “If we know it’s Fernandes we don’t make the line, we follow the action, and after the action the interference for Eddy…
“For Eddy he is going to shoot, that’s the point, but the rule is the rule and the interpretation belongs to the referees…
“This is the decision in this stadium with the referee and the VAR. After conceding a goal we cannot concede the next one, this is the most important detail we have to improve in the future.”
Only four minutes after Fernandes levelled, Rashford got what proved to be the winner to move United to within a point of City – with the potential to move above them at least temporarily when they face Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Asked if his side are now in the title race, Ten Hag demurred.
“We have improved, that is obvious,” he said. “There is still a long way to go but we have a lot of aspects in our game we have to improve but we are progressing…
“The fans may dream but we are not, we have to keep our feet on the ground and face that our game has a lot to improve. It can’t happen that after half-time we are losing so much control in the game.”
For Rashford it was an eighth goal in seven appearances, but at one point it did not look as though he would start the second half. He fell heavily on his hip shortly before the break, prompting Ten Hag to tell Antony to warm up, but when the Brazilian came on at half-time it was to replace Anthony Martial.
“He knows that in football you have to suffer and sacrifice and have painful moments, especially a player like he is,” Ten Hag said of Rashford. “He is unstoppable and opponents will go tough against him but he keeps going and he got rewarded and the team got a reward.”
For City this was a second consecutive defeat after the Carabao Cup defeat at Southampton in midweek, but Guardiola was happier with this performance.
“We lost the Carabao Cup a few days ago, but it’s not about losing the Carabao Cup, it was the way we lost the game, I was really sad,” he said.
“Today I said to the players, with this personality, they ran behind us a couple of times and just punished you on the counter attack, it’s the history of this club…We were close, not close enough, we missed a little bit up front, but in general with the performance I’m satisfied.”