Pep Guardiola insisted he would remember Manchester City’s 1-1 draw against Liverpool as “one of the most special days of my life” even though it left his team 12 points off Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table.

Sergio Agüero’s equaliser spared City from another ordeal, on the back of their Champions League exit against Monaco last week, after it had looked as though Guardiola might experience a sixth league defeat in a season for the first time in his managerial career.

The draw means City have fewer points than at the corresponding stage of four of the five previous seasons under Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini but Guardiola said it was one of the proudest moments of a career that has accumulated 22 trophies at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

“You cannot imagine,” said the man who won two European Cups for Barça. “This is one of the most special days of my life. After our defeat in the Champions League, for two days we were so, so sad and in the training sessions we didn’t talk too much. We arrived here against Liverpool, who haven’t had European football and had all week to prepare, and how we fight and how we run and how we showed spirit.

“Today is one of the happiest days of my life as a manager. I am so proud of my players. We were sad [in midweek] so that is why I am so happy. My players put everything on to the pitch. It is one of the days I am most proud. More than ever I want to help the club – if they want to stay with me – and make the next step forward. I came here for three years and I want to stay for three years and next year play better.

“The only thing we didn’t do was score more goals. To achieve the big targets you have to be more clinical. It is not just today, I have thought a lot: ‘What more can I do to get my players to score goals?’ But in my career I scored 11 goals – one goal a year – so what can I say to Sergio [Agüero]?”

James Milner opened the scoring for Liverpool with a penalty five minutes into the second half and Jürgen Klopp was clearly disappointed they could not register their sixth win against City in their last seven league meetings.

“I thought we could have won,” the Liverpool manager said. “They deserved the goal, of course, but I thought we could have scored more. It is a point and that’s good. Tomorrow I will be happy but in this moment I am a little bit disappointed – not too much but a little bit. We could have lost and we could have won. I’m not happy in this moment but give me a few hours and I will be happy.”

Guardiola, however, emphasised his unhappiness with officials. “My advice to them is that they have to speak to each other and they have to sit down on the table and review and talk urgently to make this sport better,” he said.

“What happened that season is something I have never seen in my life. They have to sit and analyse why this amount of things happen, not [just] in Manchester City games but in all the games.”

The City manager was effusive in his praise of John Stones after one of the defender’s better performances.

“John Stones has more personality than anyone in this room – more balls than everyone here. I am delighted to have him. With all his huge amount of mistakes, I love him. He is under pressure. The people criticise him. They said he wouldn’t play again. It is not easy to play central defence for this manager but I admire my central defenders.”