Concern for Sergio Aguero as Man City see off Southampton despite cracking Shane Long header
Man City 3 Southampton 1
Sergio Aguero limped off but Manchester City survived a Southampton fightback to get back to winning ways and the top of the table with a 3-1 win at the Etihad Stadium.
Title favourites City raced ahead as they sought a first win in three Barclays Premier League games with early goals from Kevin De Bruyne and full debutant Fabian Delph in heavy Manchester rain.
But Saints hit back through Shane Long and City worries increased as top striker Aguero appeared to suffer an ankle injury but Aleksandar Kolarov settled nerves with the hosts' third.
It was a bruising encounter and Saints, after standing up to City, may rue their slow start.
City began with a determination to put an end to their recent poor sequence.
Kolarov hit the bar from a free-kick in the opening minutes and Maarten Stekelenburg anxiously grabbed the ball as City players swarmed in.
More pressure led to the opener after nine minutes as Raheem Sterling robbed Maya Yoshida and sprinted into the area to square for De Bruyne to tap in.
The impressive Delph then took advantage of slack defending to feed Aguero but Stekelenburg rushed out to block the Argentinian.
City appealed for a penalty when Steven Davis appeared to block a Fernandinho header on the line with his arm, but the sense of injustice did not last long as Delph struck from the resulting corner.
The midfielder needed no invitation to shoot as the ball rolled into his path outside the area but he benefited from a big deflection off the luckless Virgil van Dijk as Stekelenburg was wrong-footed.
That seemed to spark Saints into life and Van Dijk was unfortunate again as he struck the bar from 25 yards.
Willy Caballero, standing in for the injured Joe Hart, then failed to deal with a James Ward-Prowse free-kick but recovered to keep out Saido Mane's follow-up effort. Another Ward-Prowse set-piece flew narrowly wide.
The tempo increased and the tackles became tougher with Nicolas Otamendi going in strong on Mane and illegally on Long. Van Dijk and Bacary Sagna clashed heads while Fonte was injured in a heavy and questionable challenge on Aguero.
Sterling fired over when presented with a great chance to make it 3-0 and Saints pulled one back early in the second half as Long powered in a header from a superb Mane cross.
That gave Southampton even more encouragement and the probing of Dusan Tadic, a shrewd half-time introduction, continually troubled the hosts.
Cabellero also looked nervy in goal but he clawed away an attempted Tadic chip and City escaped as Long's follow-up shot struck the arm of a defender. Long had another effort saved by Caballero as Saints kept up the pressure.
City suffered a further blow as leading striker Aguero limped off with an ankle injury but they will at least have been buoyed by the introduction of David Silva from the bench after nine games out.
City weathered the storm and took the sting out of the game with a third goal after 69 minutes.
Sterling made the initial run and Wilfried Bony was involved before De Bruyne, resisting the temptation to shoot, cleverly picked out an unmarked Kolarov on the far side. The Serbian drove home to ease City nerves.
Bony should have had another as he shot horribly wide late on but City had done enough, even though they may have been left to count the cost.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"HT 2-0 Sterling passes to Aguero None - Aguero passes to Sterling None - LOL....." - Not sure what point Rodney Marsh is trying to make here...
Willy Caballero: 7 (Out of 10)
Bacary Sagna: 6
Martin Demichelis: 6
Nicolas Otamendi: 7
Aleksandar Kolarov: 7
Fabian Delph: 9
Yaya Toure: 7
Kevin De Bruyne: 8
Raheem Sterling: 6
Sergio Aguero: 5
Wilfried Bony: 5
David Silva: 5
Maarten Stekelenburg: 6
Maya Yoshida: 5
Jose Fonte: 7
Virgil van Dijk: 7
Ryan Bertrand: 6
Oriol Romeu: 6
Victor Wanyama: 7
James Ward-Prowse: 7
Steven Davis: 6
Saido Mane: 7
Shane Long: 7
Steven Caulker: 6
Dusan Tadic: 8
Fabian Delph: Four months after he signed for City, Delph finally made his first start for the club. He fully justified his selection with an energetic and whole-hearted performance. He was strong in both defence and attack and his reading of the game was excellent. He was rewarded with a goal.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Aleksandar Kolarov & Kevin De Bruyne: City were certainly rocking for a spell at 2-1 but nerves were eased as De Bruyne and Kolarov combined for their third goal. The Belgian resisted the temptation to shoot in a crowded area and calmly looked before chipping a perfect ball to the wide-open Kolarov. The Serbian also did not panic, taking time to pick his spot as he drove home a low shot.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Despite the strong start, this was no walk in the park for City and, after a couple of unconvincing performances, Manuel Pellegrini will be relieved to have got the result. The tactics were sound enough but he must continue to curse injuries. City are simply not as tough at the back without Vincent Kompany and Caballero is not as commanding as Joe Hart. The loss of Aguero was another worry but at least Silva returned. Southampton performed admirably, particularly after falling 2-0 behind, but manager Ronald Koeman may wish he had played the impressive Dusan Tadic from the start.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Roger East seems to be a referee that subscribes to the theory that few like a fussy official, which is commendable, but he probably took it too far. Some of the challenges in the game that went unpunished were overly aggressive.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Manchester City v Hull (Capital One Cup, Tuesday December 1)
Southampton v Aston Villa (Barclays Premier League, Saturday December 5)