As days at the office go, few can have been more satisfying for Pep Guardiola than this. No wonder he wore a full beam grin at the end.
“I’m so, so happy,” the Manchester City manager exuded. “I’m so happy for the players, it was so important for them ahead of the [FA Cup] semi-final.”
A week before his side face Arsenal at Wembley, everything went right for him and City. Three points were secured in pursuit of a Champions League place, three goals were scored, a clean sheet was preserved.
Here is how pleasing this trip to the south coast was for the Spaniard: his goalkeeper actually pulled off a save. Yes, for the first time since Jan 2, Claudio Bravo successfully managed to get in the way of a goal-bound effort, throwing himself at a header from Maya Yashida and falling to the turf, the ball grasped to his chest. “Bravo, Bravo” sang the visiting supporters, jovially aware of the significance of the moment.
Brisk, efficient, clever as they were, what will have pleased the City manager all the more was the industry with which his team went about their task. Effort was everywhere on display. Not least from Sergio Agüero. Statistically this is the brilliant Argentine’s worst ever Premier League season. Statistics, though, are relative things: he had scored 10 goals in 10 games in all competitions before this. And boy was he busy here, determined to help City improve on their record of only one win from their last five visits to St Mary’s. He had volleyed the ball wide from Gaël Clichy’s swerving cross, hit a shot past the post after Kevin De Bruyne found him in space, then misdirected a sledgehammer drive from the edge of the area all within the first eight minutes.
But City’s early failure to capitalise on superior possession seemed to inspire their hosts. Brilliant work by Nathan Redmond and Manolo Gabbiadini created an opening for Dusan Tadic, alone and unmarked on the edge of the City box. His shot, however, was ballooned well over the bar. Which must have frustrated his manager Claude Puel, watching from his technical area.
Just put it somewhere near the City goal would have been the lament. After all, that is all you generally need to do when Bravo is playing: the City goalkeeper had arrivet McNeil.The 19-year-old broke into the first-team last season, making 21 Premier League appearances and scoring three times.Dyche believes McNeil will one day move to an elite club, and praised the player’s attitude.“He remains very humble, he remd on the south coast with the unenviable record of conceding goals from the last seven shots on target he had faced.
But there were few of such things here: Southampton rarely came close to testing him. And the reason for that was largely the identity of the man playing in front of Bravo. Vincent Kompany, after a wretched, injury-plagued four months, was back. His first intervention – cool, calm and perfectly executed – spoke volumes for what his absence has meant.
“We miss him a lot,” admitted Guardiola.
“He’s a real defender. No doubt about that. We are so happy he is coming back and hopefully we can keep care of him for the rest of the season.”
It was not just the skipper’s tackles and organisational nous that stood out. It was from his boot that many a City attack began.
One burst started by him concluded with Leroy Sané darting into the area. As the quicksilver forward approached the Southampton goal, from the stands it appeared Fraser Forster had clipped his ankle rather than the ball as he dived at his feet. The referee was not interested, however, preferring to award City a corner.
“I thought it was a penalty,” said Guardiola. “But Sané tells me it was not a penalty. He is a German, so I believe him.”
Not that it mattered. City, in total control of possession, continued to surge forward. And after 55 minutes the effervescent Agüero was fouled on the edge of the area. When De Bruyne’s smart free kick was cleared, the ball fell to Jesús Navas, midway inside the Southampton half. His excellent shot, seemingly destined for the back of the net, was saved at full length by Forster. From the resulting corner, who else but Kompany came barrelling in to rise above Ryan Betrand and power a header past the keeper. It was his first goal since August 2015. No wonder he celebrated with such vigour in front of the ecstatic City fans.
To the home supporters’ disappointment, Puel responded by substituting the local hero Gabbiadini. In truth, the Italian who has made such an impression since his arrival in January, did not look fully up to speed after his injury lay-off. Shane Long replaced him, and was soon involved in a fifty-fifty tussle with Kompany. As the entire visiting section held its breath, it was the Belgian who emerged unscathed from the fray, while a hobbling Long was substituted himself.
Here was concrete proof that everything was going City’s way. And as Southampton pushed for an equaliser, they left themselves exposed to the visitors’ rocket-fuelled pace on the break. They were duly punished when De Bruyne accelerated forward and pl to land a bumper boot deal.The Sun says Maguire, the world’s most expensive defender, has NO footwear deal despite his £85million move to Manchester United.But Nike, Adidas, Puma and Under Armour want him on a long-term contract worth £700,000-a-sayed in Sané, whose sharp finish left Forster marooned. Agüero then got his just reward for his industry – not to mention his eleventh goal in eleven matches – when he met De Bruyne’s adroitly chipped cross for the third.
Now come Arsenal. And after that, the Manchester derby. City’s form – and their skipper – have returned at precisely the right star, who is currently participating in the UEFA Nations League Finals with his country, is a wanted man.Fernandes is valued at roughly £71million by his club, with City and United bought thought to have an interest.However, A Bola suggest that Cittime.
Aguero off, Iheanacho on. This game is dead though so I can’t see him adding to his already impressive goalscoring record.
A perfect counter-attack! City win the ball, hit one touch passes, De Bruyne moves in behind and is clean through, then spots Sane for the finish.
And just look at how attacking City’s shape has been all match:
Southampton are now starting to press high up the pitch. Balls into the box are being aimed at Bravo… they’ve spotted a weakness.
That’s Kompany’s goal. Meanwhile, City have been piling on the pressure. Aguero goes close and catches Forster at the near post, Silva can’t convert from the loose ball.
It’s Kompany! Superb header from a well timed run! City draw first blood and it’s from a corner.
AND SANE IS THROUGH ON GOAL NOW! The keeper comes out, Sane drops the shoulder, goes around him and…. goes down! Is that a penalty?
The referee says no but the replay says yes! Toure heads over at the back post from the corner.
Graham Poll says: "Clear penalty, Forster doesn’t get any of the ball. Definite penalty but no card."
More danger for City and Bravo is directly involved! The keeper comes way off his line to deal with crosses into the box, palms one away and is then fortunate his defenders block the follow up shot.
What is it with City controlling games before conceding?
And another chance for Aguero! He turns Stephens in the box and shoots low to the back post… dragging his shot just wide!
"He was perfect in Stamford Bridge and no physical problems and it was so demanding for him and he’s ready to play. John Stones is injured, we’ll know what it is in next few days.
"Every day, every game decide what I see. I’m not a manager who blame the reasons why we have success on different situations. We talk always what we can do to improve, I try to be a good human being Monday to Saturday but Sunday I am a football manager."
Bravo, Clichy, Kompany (c), Otamendi, Fernandinho, Toure, Sane, Silva, De Bruyne, Navas, Aguero
What is the team news?
The returns of Manolo Gabbiadini and Steven Davis mean Southampton have a near fully-fit squad for Saturday’s Premier League visit of Manchester City.
Manager Claude Puel is yet to decide whether either will start, but their presence in his squad leaves Charlie Austin – close to returning from an injured shoulder – and Virgil van Dijk, who has an injured foot, as his only major absentees.
Beyond those two, only Matt Targett and Alex McCarthy are unavailable due to to hamstring injuries.
Team from: Forster, Taylor, Cedric, Martina, Pied, Yoshida, Stephens, Caceres, Bertrand, McQueen, Romeu, Hojbjerg, Davis, Clasie, Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Boufal, Redmond, Rodriguez, Long, Gabbiadini.
Pep Guardiola is waiting on fitness updates on two of his centre-backs. Their win over Hull last weekend was achieved with John Stones and Aleks Kolarov as the central pairing. Stones has become a key player for City in recent weeks and Kolarov took his place alongside the England man with Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi not fit enough to be named in the XI.
Kompany, who turned 31 earlier this week, needs to prove he can put his injury woes behind him and still be a valued member of the squad.
Any interesting match stats?
How are the below for you…
City have only picked up eight points out of a possible 18 in past six games.Saints full-back Jeremy Pied is fit after seven months out injured.City striker Aguero has scored 10 goals in 10 games.Southampton centre-back pairing of Yoshida and Stephens conceded 10 goals in eight league games they have played together.
What are they saying?
"We know the next game against Manchester City is a strong challenge, a great team, but it’s better to play against Manchester City after two wins, as it gives us confidence.
"We play at home and, with the support of the fans, we can do fantastic work against them."
"I want to win trophies. I hope we can lift something for us and the fans this year.
"All this year, we’ve been fighting for something… The FA Cup is a big target for us this year. We’re looking forward to it.
"I’m the type of player that always wants to win. In football, sometimes you can lose or draw. We want to always be at the top but we want to keep on going… We play Southampton and we’ll try and win that game."
What are the odds?
Man City 8/11
What’s our prediction?
Southampton are unbeaten in three winning their last two matches against West Brom and Crystal Palace while Manchester City have had a sticky spell recently.
City need to win to enhance their hopes of a top-four finish but Puel’s men will not be a pushover. We’re going for a 2-2 draw here.