Monday 18 December 2017

City accelerate into top gear

Southampton 0 Manchester City 3

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero jumps to head his side's third goal against Southampton yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero jumps to head his side's third goal against Southampton yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Jim White

The smile on Pep Guardiola's face said it all. A full beam of satisfaction, it marked as pleasing an afternoon's work as any he has supervised in his first season in Manchester. This was City as he envisaged them: industrious, efficient, and way too clever for a pedestrian Southampton. Strolling to the most comfortable of 3-0 victories, they looked a side in form at precisely the right moment, ahead of their two most important fixtures of the season: an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal and then the Manchester derby.

What will have pleased the City manager was the industry with which his team went about their task. Effort was everywhere on display. Not least from Sergio Aguero.

Man City boss Pep Guardiola will be delighted with his team's ruthless performance on the south coast. Photo: PA
Man City boss Pep Guardiola will be delighted with his team's ruthless performance on the south coast. Photo: PA

Statistically, this is the brilliant Argentine's worst 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 in his pursuit of an 11th, 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 Gael Clichy's swerving cross, hit a shot past the post after Kevin De Bruyne found him neatly, then misdirected a sledgehammer drive from the edge of the area, all within the first eight minutes.

As Aguero huffed and puffed, Southampton were initially pushed on to the back foot. But City's failure to capitalise on superior possession seemed to inspire the hosts. Brilliant work by Nathan Redmond and Manolo Gabbiadini created an opening for Dusan Tadic, alone on the edge of the Southampton box. However, his shot ballooned well over the bar. Which must have hugely 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's all you generally need to do when Claudio Bravo is playing.

The City goalkeeper, much praised by his manager for his distribution with his feet, is less secure with his hands. He arrived on the coast with the unenviable record of conceding goals from the last seven shots on target he had faced. Indeed, he hadn't made a save in the Premier League since January 2.

Manchester City's Vincent Kompany scores their first goal Photo: Reuters / Stefan Wermuth
Manchester City's Vincent Kompany scores their first goal Photo: Reuters / Stefan Wermuth

Not that Southampton tested him, a flapped clearance from a corner the only time he was put under direct pressure in the first half. But then there was a reason for that: he had much better protection here than of late. The long-absent Vincent Kompany's first intervention here, cool, calm and perfectly executed, was to steal the ball from Redmond, then flick it casually over the attacker's head.

The captain's passing from the back was faultless. It was from his boot that most City attacks started. One burst concluded with Leroy Sane darting into the area, testing Fraser Forster, who appeared to have caught his ankle rather than the ball as he dived at the forward's feet. The referee wasn't interested, preferring to award City a corner rather than a penalty, from which Yaya Toure headed harmlessly wide.

City began the second half as they had the first: in absolute control. Their crisp and assured passing was at times a thing of beauty. One quickfire burst almost launched David Silva into the Southampton area. Only a magnificent piece of back-tracking by Steven Davis prevented disaster.

But it always lurked. After 55 minutes, the effervescent Aguero was fouled on the edge of the area. When De Bruyne's smart free-kick was cleared, the ball fell to Jesus Navas, midway inside the Southampton half. His excellent shot, seemingly destined for the top corner of the net, was saved at full length by Forster.

From the resulting corner, 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 fans' disappointment, Puel responded by substituting 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 came on, but was soon himself substituted after twisting his ankle in a tussle with, who else, Kompany.

By now Sane, De Bruyne and especially Aguero were running at will at the Southampton backline. A brilliant move of sublime first-time passing ended up with the ball pinging into the Southampton box, where Forster and Aguero collided.

Southampton's best effort came when Tadic, teasing the City backline, swung in a cross which Maya Yoshida met with a firm header at the far post. The ball then did something unexpected: it landed in the arms of the City goalkeeper, who tumbled to the floor apparently in relief. "Bravo, Bravo" sang the visiting supporters, aware of the significance of the moment.

It was that kind of day for City: everything was working out. And as Southampton pushed for an equaliser, they left themselves exposed to City's pace on the break.

They were duly punished when De Bruyne accelerated forward and played in Sane, whose sharp finish left Forster with no chance. Aguero then got his just reward - and his 11th goal in 11 matches - when he met De Bruyne's beautifully placed cross for the third.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport