Guardiola relief palpable after late winner
Manchester City 2 Southampton 1
The reaction of Pep Guardiola on the touchline said it all. For long periods, he had cut a most agitated figure, railing against perceived injustices and time-wasting, barking orders at his players, arguing with the Southampton dugout, even careering out of his technical area at one point and bundling his way past a ball boy whom he felt was not retrieving the ball quickly enough.
The relief, then, the unburdening of all that pent-up frustration was clear to see in the Manchester City manager's celebration when Kyle Walker scored a late winner to complete a dramatic fightback. Running towards his bench, jumping high as he punched the air and throwing himself into the open arms of his staff, Guardiola was the happiest he had been all afternoon.
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"I think we have seen him a little bit nicer than today," Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Southampton manager, said. "He is a fantastic manager but he could feel they didn't have any solutions. He was a little bit nervous because he could lose this game and you can see how much he was celebrating when they scored. It gives you the feeling you are doing a lot of things right. When Pep has no solutions what to do, then you really have done it well but in the end..."
There were certainly shades of the Southampton game here two years ago, when Raheem Sterling claimed a late winner that would help propel City to a first Premier League title under Guardiola. He celebrated then by racing on to the pitch before indulging in some mad haranguing of Nathan Redmond.
Only time will tell how important Walker's intervention proves to be but, with Liverpool scoring yet another late winner themselves at Aston Villa, it certainly felt significant. At least until the final half an hour, when they threw the lot at a Southampton side unrecognisable from the one that lost 9-0 to Leicester in their previous league outing, City were poor. But, they prevailed in the end.
Southampton had led through James Ward-Prowse's early goal after a rare blunder by Ederson but, after Sergio Aguero had equalised from Walker's pull-back, provider then turned predator. Angelino dug out a cross from near the left corner flag that Alex McCarthy could only palm into the path of Walker to steer home.
It was only Walker's third goal in 113 appearances for City, but it was vital. It was clear Guardiola did not like Hasenhuttl's tactics, neither Southampton sitting so deep nor their apparent time-wasting.
Asked why his players delivered so many fruitless crosses, the City manager replied: "Because 11 players defend in the penalty spot - like a tree. They allow you to go outside, they do not allow you to go inside. There are no spaces. Danny Ings and Redmond defend in the 18-yard box."
But what did City expect? Southampton had to show a reaction from the Leicester debacle. From 5-0 down at half-time to Leicester to 1-0 up at the break away to the champions eight days later, they defended so heroically it was hard to believe it was the same side.
For all their possession, City did not manage a shot on target in the first half. Jannik Vestergaard, Jack Stephens and Jan Bednarek were outstanding. As any manager will tell you, though, you need a bit of luck. Ederson is arguably the league's best goalkeeper but he was at fault for Southampton's goal. From Ings's pass, Redmond pulled the ball back to Stuart Armstrong on the edge of the box.
His shot - while hit at pace - should have been smothered but the City goalkeeper spilled it and compounded the error when he went to punch it away, rather than spread himself and block Ward-Prowse's rebound.
Gabriel Jesus replaced the injured David Silva at half time but it was the senior striker Aguero's controlled volley from Walker's pull-back which finally broke Southampton's resistance. And from then, there would be only one winner.
Nonetheless, Hasenhuttl had much to be pleased about. "It's not about giving money back or saying sorry [for Leicester], it's about showing it on the pitch," he said.
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