Pep Guardiola hailed Southampton as the “best team we’ve played” at the Etihad this season as his Manchester City side scored five in a resounding 5-2 win.
Guardiola – whose side started the game with no recognised striker in the first XI – was speaking after his side recovered from defeat in the Manchester derby, which ended their 28-game unbeaten run in all competitions. A man envied by Fantasy Football managers, the Spaniard made five changes to the side which lost against Manchester United, including the return of Bernardo Silva and in-form Phil Foden to the side.
For Ralph Hasenhuttl, his side’s return of one win in ten – against a Sheffield United side who have 14 points from 28 games at the time of writing – would rightly be a cause for concern. He brought back Alex McCarthy to the ‘keeper role, something he had held as his own for an arguably prolonged period of time this season, in place of Fraser Forster. Amongst the other five changes to the side was the place for Takumi Minamino on the bench, whose early form has been clouded over by the Saints’ woeful results in recent weeks.
It has been written many times, but Southampton did start the brighter of the two sides, with positive play seeing a lot of the early possession in their attacking third, but they couldn’t quite carve out a clear-cut chance.
However, Hasenhuttl will have known that, given the opportunity, the Citizens will take their chances – and they did. With their first real attack of the game, City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko darted down the left hand side leaving the Saints back line vulnerable. His low cross to Foden saw the young Englishmen have a relatively weak shot at goal which was parried away by the recalled McCarthy. The parry wasn’t enough, though, as former Chelsea man Kevin de Bruyne slotted the rebound into the now-open goal to give the hosts the lead.
It was going to be an uphill battle for the visitors, now, but they did not let their attacking impetus slip. Southampton were rewarded for their efforts mid-way through the first half when Aymeric Laporte conceded a penalty by holding Jannik Vestergaard back from finishing from a corner. James Ward-Prowse, the ever-reliable set-piece hero for the Saints this season – stepped up to finish from 12 yards and equalise for the Saints.
It was nearly a penalty down at the other end moments later, as McCarthy mistimed his challenge on the advancing Foden, but the 20-year-old stayed on his feet as he attempted to finish the attack off. VAR ruled that the challenge was fair and no penalty was given.
Southampton then made up for this with a few dominant minutes; a long-range shot and a separate free kick from Ward-Prowse challenged City ‘keeper Ederson, whilst a great chance for Moussa Djenepo was fired just wide of the post.
A poor – and what should have been simple – ball from Che Adams fell right into the path of Riyad Mahrez to give City possession as the first half looked to be drawing to a 1-1 end. Mahrez brought the ball forward and, with his pace and finishing ability, it was always going to be a City goal – McCarthy couldn’t get a hand to the cool finish from the Algerian.
Just as Hasenhuttl had probably planned his inspirational half-time team talk at 2-1 down, a lapse of concentration again gave City the chance – in the third added minute at the end of the first half – to grab a third goal. Mahrez – played through by de Bruyne – had a shot at goal from a tight angle which struck the post. The follow-up was tapped in by Ilkay Gundogan for 3-1, and the whistle for half-time blew shortly afterward.
It was one of the more exciting first-halves in this strange Premier League season, and looked to be setting up an interesting second 45′ – and we were not disappointed (as neutrals, anyway).
The hosts came out thriving in the second half – they had nearly all of the early possession (95%!) and went 4-1 up as Mahrez, again, from 12 yards out, fired into the bottom corner. The build-up play was sublime – Southampton really had no say in anything early on in the second half.
Having said that, just as soon as the celebrations for 4-1 were over, Southampton were on the attack as Nathan Redmond – in for the injured Danny Ings – seized on a loose ball from Bernardo Silva. Stuart Armstrong picked up the ball from Redmond’s pass and his deflected shot then fell into the path of Adams who coolly finished into what was then an empty net.
Then, if you thought two goals within a minute or so was too much excitement, try three in five. At 4-2, Southampton had half a chance of clawing their way back into this tie, but as Phil Foden held the ball up just outside the area and found the Belgian playmaker de Bruyne, McCarthy was hopeless in keeping the strike out. It was a goal that gave Southampton another damning statistic – they have conceded more goals in the league in Manchester this season than even Manchester City have.
The game felt as if it had ended on the hour mark, though. Very few chances followed, substitutions took any fizz out of the game and, frankly, Saints conceded defeat. The late finish from Sergio Aguero, as he looked to seal his first goal in the league for over a year, was saved easily by McCarthy but when the full-time whistle went, Hasenhuttl did not seem too disappointed in his side’s performance.
Indeed, after the game he told Sky Sports:
‘We played quite well, I must say, even though we conceded five goals. When they win the ball it goes so quickly. In the second half, when they get confident, then it looks horrible. You are always too late, they have so much quality. I must say it’s absolutely OK what we did today.’
Bravery, and playing well, don’t get you points in the Premier League though. Southampton’s ninth defeat in eleven league games has seen them slip down the table and they will be desperate for a win over Brighton at the weekend to secure safety in the division.
FT: Manchester City 5-2 SOUTHAMPTON (De Bruyne 15′, 59′, Mahrez 40′, 55′, Gundogan 45’+3′) (Ward-Prowse 25′ (pen), Adams 56′)
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Zinchenko (Mendy 81′), De Bruyne (Aguero 72′), Fernandinho (booked), Gundogan, Mahrez (Torres 61′), Silva, Foden. Unused Subs: Stones, Sterling, Jesus, Steffen, Rodri, Cancelo.
Southampton: McCarthy, Bertrand, Bednarek, Vestergaard, Salisu, Armstrong (Watts 72′), Ward-Prowse, Stephens (Diallo 63′), Djenepo (Tella 45′), Redmond, Adams. Unused Subs: Walker-Peters, Minamino, Ramsay, N’Lundulu, Forster, Ferry.
Wessex Scene Man of the Match: Phil Foden (Manchester City).
Referee: Jonathan Moss.