Manchester City’s visit to Saint Mary’s comes at an important part of the season and, aside from the upcoming FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal and the impending Manchester Derby, Southampton away is arguably one of City’s toughest remaining games. City can’t really afford to drop any points in the remaining fixtures, if they want to cement Champions League football for next season.
On to the game…
Before kick-off the talking points were Pep Guardiola’s team selection. Claudio Bravo retained his place in goal, but I personally believe that this is because Caballero will be starting in goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup. Fabian Delph, who I had pegged as Man of the Match in City’s last game against Hull, was left out of the squad against the Saints, as he was ‘not fully fit’; reportedly due to a minor issue. However, he should be fine for next week’s trip to Wembley. John Stones was also left out of the squad and Pep Guardiola confirmed that this was due to an injury that he’s picked up, but couldn’t confirm the extent. This meant that Nicolas Otamendi and club captain Vincent Kompany came back into the team. All in all, these changes meant that Guardiola has now made 100 changes to his team selection this season – the most in the league by quite a way.
Carrying on the manner in the last few games, City started brightly showing intent and pace. Their first chance came in the 4th minute with a lovely bit of build up play; the ball coming into the Southampton box from City’s left flank, Sergio Agüero stretched to attempt an acrobatic volley, but the effort was off target. Seconds later, a nice ball in from Kevin de Bruyne, out on the right, to Agüero, was met with a lovely touch, but he pulled his shot across goal and it went wide of the far post. You’d have expected him to score, seen as he’s had 10 goals in last 10 games and had scored in each of the last 4 consecutive games. With two early chances in first 5 mins here it looked like it would only be a matter of time before he got on the score sheet.
As has been the case so many times this season, City enjoyed the majority of possession for so much of the game, but didn’t have anything on the scoreboard to show for it in the early stages. More chances were wasted, a counter attack by City ended with Agüero’s attempted cross being deflected and looping over from the left flank to David Silva, who was arriving at the far post. Silva put the ball into the side netting. Frustrating really. Seconds later, Leroy Sané was through on goal, Forster came out and, depending on which angle you watch it from or which pundits were commentating, he gets some or none of the ball. From the replays I’ve seen, I think Forster got his finger tips to the ball and just about caught Sané too. Whilst we’ve seen them given before, it wasn’t a penalty for me and the referee got it right. However, BT Sport and their ‘choice’ pundits were adamant that it was a penalty. Match of the Day seemed to see it the same way as me. Feel free to leave a comment below or tweet us with your opinion.
Southampton started coming back into the game shortly after. The Saints were putting pressure on City. A couple of efforts had Claudio Bravo flapping at crosses and corners. It feels harsh to get on his back after City kept a clean sheet yesterday, but why can’t he catch the ball?
On to the second half, City again started brightly and they creared several early chances. The breakthrough came in the 54th minute; Jesus Navas drove a long range shot on goal forcing Forster to make save, resulting in a City corner. The ball comes in and City captain Kompany rose up and used his strength to force home a header.
As a City fan, it’s great to have seen the legend that is Vinny back in this form and fashion, but I’ve got to be honest, I also think Forster should have done better. It was a tame flap of the hands, from a header that was well within reach. Watching the goal back, I can’t help but think that if it was the other way round and Bravo had conceded a goal like this, he’d have been torn apart by City fans on social media. Not to take anything away from the goal, Kompany showed his quality to rise up and direct it down towards the goal.
Kompany’s celebration showed exactly what it meant to him. It was only his fourth league start of the season and his first goal since August 2015. City have missed him and look a completely different side when he’s playing.
Following the goal, City reverted to type, they were still creating many chances, but not putting them away. Kompany almost had a second from a spilled ball after a City corner, Agüero and Silva also forced good saves from Forster around the hour mark.
City’s second goal came in the 77th minute and, I know I’m biased, but it was a brilliant bit of play. If you’ve not seen the replay of the build up, you need to. The spark of brilliance from Kevin de Bruyne to set the move off was pure class. A flick by the Belgian to turn two Southampton players in the City half, a neat through ball back to him from David Silva and fast break finished off with a cool first time shot from Leroy Sané; the goal had everything Guardiola wants from his team.
City fans were chanting “Leroy! Leroy!”, but de Bruyne deserved the most applause in this case. The travelling support didn’t have long to wait before City had a third. Again de Bruyne was the instigator, a lobbed ball from one side of the Southampton goal across to a leaping Sergio Agüero arriving at the far post. The marking from Southampton wasn’t the best, particularly when you consider that one of the shortest players on the pitch was able to rise up and nod the ball home. Forster again was caught out, but he can blame his defenders for this one; the marking was poor. Agüero took his tally to 17 goals in the league and 11 in the last 11 games.
There were many positives for City to take from the game. It’s another important away win, 3 more points in the race for a top 4 (hopefully top 3) finish, a clean sheet, and it’s a big confidence boost ahead of a trip to Wembley.
The performance from Kevin de Bruyne is something that impressed me most, if you’ve read my pieces on recent games, you’ll know I’ve been of the impression that KdB has been out of sorts for a large part of this season. However, his performance against Southampton was much improved and hopefully is the start of a bright end to the season for him. Agüero was also class and gave further indications that he’s buying into Guardiola’s style of play.
Arguably the biggest positive City can take from the game is Vincent Kompany, his goal, his performance, the fact he completed another full 90 minutes and the passion he showed when he scored. There’s no questioning his quality, when he’s fit he is one of the best centrebacks in world football. He’s big, strong, athletic, intelligent and has a great technique on the ball. Pep has labelled him a ‘real central defender’ and he is. Let’s hope he can finish the season without further hindrance. City will need their captain if they’re to overcome Arsenal next week and for certain his personality and quality will be essential if City are to win the Manchester Derby which takes places on a few days after.
Come on City!