Gael Clichy scored his first goal for City (Photography by Richard Tucker)
Southampton 0 Manchester City 3 (HT 0-0)
City outclassed Southampton and climbed over them into second place in this very important win. Dare we see say our third win in succession suggests the Boys in Blue are finding some momentum at last? Without wishing tempt fate, we’ll just hope the winning run continues.
It was a superb team performance where everyone contributed, and it could have been more than the three goals that we eventually scored. The score line is also remarkable from the fact that Southampton had only conceded once in their previous five home games and were 2nd in the League before kick off. City, in truth, made the Saints look very poor indeed, and “That’s why we’re Champions”, was loudly bellowed by City fans.
Sergio Aguero was again City’s best player, and followed up his hat trick of goals against Bayern with an excellent selfless showing which delivered a couple of assists. He would probably have had a goal of his own early on, had he been awarded a penalty for a clear trip by Fonte in the box. Instead referee Mike Jones booked him for a dive that never happened. Clearly he was felled, and it’s not as if Sergio Aguero dives or ever has dived. Fonte knew he’d fouled him and as good as admitted it by pointing in the hope that Jones would think that the offence had occurred outside the box! It was an outrage. This latest incidence of appalling refereeing could have cost us very dearly indeed.
City had started this game encouragingly, pressing far up the field and not allowing Southampton to get going. For twenty minutes it was all City as we passed the ball quickly and Fernandinho and Yaya snapped into tackles. Navas offered pace down the right to keep Bertrand busy and Nasri came inside from the left to make the play, with Aguero and Jovetic taking turns to come deep, running between the lines. Their movement bamboozled Southampton’s much lauded defence who didn’t know who to mark. There were not many clear cut chances in that opening phase but Yaya forced a save from Forster with a high curling shot in the 16th minute.
Southampton had a little spell from the 20th minute. In the same sequence of play, Pelle just failed to make enough contact to force a Schneiderlin cross in and Hart was forced to make a stretching save from a goal bound shot from Davis. The ball broke loose and Vincent Kompany literally put his body on the line to block Tadic’s shot from the rebound.
City were the dominant force and after good work from Aguero and Nasri, Jovetic’s shot deflected through Forster’s legs and was cleared off the line just after the half hour. Aguero headed the resultant corner wide. Sergio Aguero was causing Southampton defence problems and they really struggled to deal with his speed and strong running. Not that Southampton had any legal way of stopping him: with both Fonte and Aderweireld tripping him in one run across the box but the thoroughly inept Jones gave nothing.
Southampton’s biggest threat came from set pieces and Pelle glanced a corner wide in the 34th minute, but City’s play was superior. The Saints enjoyed a short spell after the break: Aderweireld couldn’t trouble Hart with his shot; and Tadic cut in from the right and fired just wide. It was to be the last meaningful threat on City’s goal, so dominant and effective were City in this game.
Our first goal was a testament to City’s hard work and pressing. Fernandinho dispossessed Wanyama twenty yards from Southampton’s goal, and ran across the front of the box, before picking out Aguero’s run down inside left with a perfectly weighted diagonal pass. Aguero twisted and turned back from the by-line with mesmerised defenders in his wake, and played a superb cut back to Yaya Toure whose fierce low goal bound twenty yard drive deflected in off a Southampton defender. It was no more than City deserved.
Almost immediately Pellegrini made a tactical switch, bringing Milner on for Jovetic, pushing Nasri inside and Milner wide left.
City were rampant and went for more goals. More unselfish work from Aguero saw him cut the ball back for Milner but the Yorkshireman’s shot was a foot over the bar in the 65th minute. Pellegrini brought on Lampard for Nasri to beef up midfield, and this only increased our stranglehold on the match. Kompany delivered a flicked a corner on and Aguero just couldn’t keep his effort at the far post down. Navas went close after he robbed Bertrand. It looked like City would get a second goal, but no one can ever say with 100% confidence that it is ever plain sailing with City, no matter how good our team is.
Yaya Toure dallied too long on the ball and got caught in possession by the feisty Shane Long, and Mangala shoved the Irish striker over just outside the box. It was his second yellow, and it is impossible to argue about either, so off he went. It was a needless, rash challenge especially as Vincent Kompany was on hand to cover, and would probably have got across to block off Long’s run.
So it was time for a final rearrangement and Navas left the pitch to well earned applause while Demichelis slotted in alongside Kompany at the back.
Not that being reduced to 10 men bothered City unduly. City just kept picking off Southampton with clever breaks. More good work from Aguero saw him play in Fernandinho but the Brazilian shot into the side netting. It was, however, only a temporary reprieve for the home side, as City put the game to bed in the 80th minute. Davis was struggling to control the ball in midfield when Milner dispossessed him, advanced down the left, checked, and squared the ball to Lampard who drove home a classic finish inside the left had post, with Forster rooted to the spot. What a relief!
It could have been three when Clichy’s long pass freed Aguero with just the keeper to beat, but, surprisingly, he got too close to the advancing Forster who was able to smother his shot.
Southampton were poor, and this was epitomised by the hapless Pelle, who should have done better after Long played a cross in. Pelle might be his name but he is a million miles away from being the great Pele. Koeman may be restoring Long in his place if he goes on the basis of this performance.
City’s crowning third goal was the result of a most unlikely combination. City cleared a corner and Lampard played a measured pass across to Demichelis who was advancing down the left. The Argentine centre back found Aguero who ran down the inside left channel into the penalty area, and played a sumptuous pass with the outside of his right foot to Clichy on the right, and the left back smashed the ball high into the net. There were gleeful celebrations, and the players were clearly pleased for Clichy. It was Clichy’s 1st goal for City, in his 120th appearance, and his 2nd career goal. Who’d have thought we’d have seen both Demichelis and Clichy in the opponents half and the latter on the right, scoring with his right? Clichy was actually right footed as a young boy, but so good was his father’s coaching when he was a youngster, that his left developed to the point that it became his predominant foot.
The only cloud in the match was Vincent Kompany’s hamstring injury in the dying minutes of the match (and “We’ve only got nine men…” was the memorable chant from the City fans). With Eliaquim Mangala’s suspension, we will be severely disrupted at the back for our visit to Sunderland on Wednesday. One would expect Demichelis to play, and the options are Yaya (who played at centre half in a Champions League Final for Barcelona), Bacary Sagna who filled in there with some success for Arsenal at times and Dedryck Boyata. Moving Yaya would disrupt midfield, Boyata can be rather nervous so maybe it’s time to give Sagna a go there.
To defeat Southampton was no mean achievement, even if they were poor on the day. The paucity of the show owed much to the fact that we didn’t allow them to play. Pellegrini had the team very well organised and focused after the dramatic victory over Bayern in midfield, and his tactics were spot on. Our formation was very fluid and the flexibility and interchangeability of Aguero and Jovetic caused a lot of problems for our opponents. Fernandinho and Yaya dominated the centre of midfield. The manager and his staff would have watched Southampton’s two full backs combined to score their equaliser at Villa Park last Monday and ensured that his wide men prevented them from advancing into dangerous areas.
To defeat Southampton was no mean achievement, even if they were poor on the day. The paucity of the show owed much to the fact that we didn’t allow them to play. Pellegrini had the team very well organised and focused after the dramatic victory over Bayern in midfield. Fernandinho and Yaya dominated the centre of midfield with the former in particularThe manager and his staff would have watched Southampton’s two full backs Bertrand and Clyne combined to score their equaliser at Villa Park last Monday and ensured that his wide men prevented them from advancing into dangerous areas.
Let’s not forget that Southampton had only conceded one goal at home this season before City rolled into St Mary’s and grabbed our first win there since 2003. Pellegrini must be happy that there was a real rhythm and tempo to our play and that our players kept their feet on the ground. This was a very good, performance of Champions from City which puts us 6 points behind Chelsea after their draw at Sunderland. Now we have to better their result there, and get that elusive win.
Come on City.
City: Yaya Toure 51, Lampard 80, Clichy 87
Hart: Important one handed low save with his right hand to deny Davis. Otherwise good handling though one punch out was too low and lacked distance. His kicking is chronically inconsistent: 7
Zabaleta: City look better when he is making runs down the outside and he did so during this game. Solid defensively, sharp in the tackle and a warrior as ever but booked for a professional foul, and was a little bit naughty in uncharacteristically barging Pelle off the pitch in one challenge. 7
Kompany: Strong and resolute as ever. Literally put his body on the line at a crucial moment. We’ll miss his defending and leadership qualities, but hopefully not for too long: 8
Mangala: Had been doing well with some good interceptions, but on another day his rashness might have cost us: 6
Clichy: Excellent defending again and a well deserved goal. He is on a hot streak and long may it continue for the likeable left back: 7
Navas: Good work up and down the pitch again, even if not every cross was well delivered. Good team player who kept Southampton Bertrand in his pocket all afternoon: 7
Fernandinho: A performance of great energy, tenacity and intelligence. Looking very good indeed, he is back to the level he was at last season: 8
Yaya Toure: Strong in the challenge, committed, we are seeing him getting back to his best. Took his goal really well but caught in possession which led to Mangala’s red card: 7
Nasri: Rode some challenges with bravery and skill, and played with intelligence. Less influence when he was moved to central midfield: 7
Jovetic: Very intelligent in his movement which caused problems : 7
Aguero: Two assists does not tell the whole story in another brilliant performance. Superbly balanced, twists, turns, great vision, speed, hungry, unselfish, hard-working, tenacious, intelligent, he is not only a great striker but he is a great team player. He is not only a great goal scorer but has the ability to be a great play maker too and showed that in this game. Indeed, could play anywhere in midfield or on the wing very well indeed. That’s how good he is: 9 ***Man of the match***
Milner (for Jovetic 54): Very good all round lay up and down the left flank, including a carefully measured pass to set up Lampard for his goal. The longer he is not signed up the more of a worry it is though, especially as he would be able to start negotiating with other clubs in January. He says he hopes to sign a new deal so hopefully it will happen soon. It would be very disappointing to lose a player who offers so much: 8
Lampard (for Nasri 65): He is still a very good player. Took his goal as brilliantly as he had done throughout his illustrious career, and played a big part in setting up our third and final goal. We must do what we can to sign him for the rest of the season: 8
Demichelis (for Navas 75): Now a reassuring presence at the back. Lovely pass to Aguero in the build up to our third goal: 7
Best Oppo: Schneiderlin: Fiercely won a tackle with Fernandinho in midfield and put in a superb ball for Pelle in the first half before being subbed due to injury at half time. Even if he had been fit to continue, City were unstoppable on this occasion. He would improve Arsenal’s midfield but not ours: 7
Refwatch: Mike Jones: Absolutely atrocious. How he thought Sergio Aguero wasn’t fouled, let alone dived is preposterous. He also managed to halt a City attack rather than play advantage after a Southampton man was caught offside. Looked nervous and reactionary all afternoon: 1