Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola felt his side’s patience and attacking intensity were key in their win over gutsy Southampton that keeps them six points behind leaders Liverpool.
City trailed to an early James Ward-Prowse goal and did not equalise until Sergio Aguero scored with their first shot on target on 70 minutes, with Kyle Walker hitting their late winner.
“Southampton defended with 11 men in the 18-yard box so there were no spaces to attack,” Guardiola said afterwards.
“We just had to be patient, putting in crosses and trying to win the second balls, but at the same time we were constantly attacking and were very aggressive in our actions.
“It was difficult after we conceded but our rhythm was high from the first minute and we had incredibly good momentum in the first half.
“In the second half we had maybe 30 or 35 minutes where we were so intense in our actions. It was not easy, but that is why we did it and could make the comeback in the end.”
With Liverpool simultaneously staging a similar last-gasp rescue act to overcome Aston Villa, it was a dramatic day at the top of the table that leaves the top two as they were, a week before they meet at Anfield.
The overriding emotion on the final whistle at the Etihad Stadium was still relief at City’s triumph, with the focus from the champions on securing three points rather than any potential Liverpool slip-up.
Saints came within minutes of leaving Manchester with a remarkable point, just eight days after shipping nine goals at home to Leicester, before Walker’s volley gave the hosts a vital victory.
Southampton had taken an unlikely early lead when Ward-Prowse pounced on an Ederson error and they held out until Aguero hammered home Walker’s cross with 20 minutes to go.
City’s struggle to turn their possession into clear chances was testament to Southampton’s incredible defensive display.
The visitors’ resistance was only ended when Angelino’s cross was not cleared and Walker buried the loose ball for his first City goal since January.
Saints give defensive masterclass
Most of Southampton’s players were down on their haunches to show their dejection at the final whistle, as they were at the end of their previous league game -humiliation at the hands of the Foxes.
But this performance from Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side was nothing like their meek surrender at St Mary’s, with Saints putting on an impressive defensive show of determination and organisation that almost brought them some reward.
Just as they did in their defeat here in the Carabao Cup four days ago, Saints stayed deep and defended in numbers – but this time they also had a meaningful threat on the break through Nathan Redmond and Danny Ings.
They scored with their first real attack, when Emerson failed to collect Stuart Armstrong’s skidding shot and Ward-Prowse was first to react to the loose ball.
From then on it was a defensive masterclass, with Saints staying narrow and packing their penalty area, sending City wide to deliver countless crosses – Aguero’s equaliser came from their 46th delivery in open play.
It was only City’s relentless pressure that wore them down, but it was exactly the kind of performance Hasenhuttl had asked for in the past few days.
City find a way through in the end
Walker’s winner sent City boss Pep Guardiola jumping for joy, after he had spent most of the second half dashing up and down his touchline to quickly retrieve Southampton’s clearances from the crowd, and urge his side forward.
Despite dominating possession, City found it difficult to create chances for most of the game – and not just because of the commitment of Southampton’s players and their willingness to throw themselves into the path of every shot or cross from the home side.
When City did manage to clear a shot at goal, they were wasteful – with John Stones heading over from Ilkay Gundogan cross in the first half and Aguero doing the same from a Bernardo Silva ball soon after the break.
By then, Gabriel Jesus had joined him in the City attack, but the Brazilian’s arrival initially did not make much difference in what had become a frustrating afternoon for the home side.
But on a day where Southampton’s players had shown their character and resolve in defence, City did the same in front of goal to finally force their way through.
Liverpool’s eventual win over Villa means City will have to wait at least another week to close the gap at the top, but this was still a vital victory for Guardiola’s side, no matter how they got it.
Man of the match – Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
‘We created an incredible amount of chances’ – what they said
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola speaking to Sky Sports: “We played incredible from the first minute until the end. We created an incredible amount of chances. We were pressured but we did it. We kept our cool and we were patient. We know we will always get chances, it was important that we stayed calm ahead.
“I told them at half-time to keep going for it, to keep attacking. It is the only way. There was no space, it was almost impossible but we did it and that is why I am delighted.”
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl: “To come here twice after losing 9-0 is not the easiest moment for a team but I think it was a chance to show up today, and we did, and it was really a pity that we didn’t get something for the amazing work we did today.
“We had to show a reaction, we know that Tuesday was the first step and we knew we had to do it better than on Tuesday because the City team today was their first team, their A team, with all their best-performing players.
“And our squad today was unbelievably committed, and unbelievable defending, following the game-plan and investing so much in defending our net.
“It was very difficult today for City to create chances – I don’t think they had a lot, only at the end was it open because we wanted the equaliser but until then I think they haven’t seen a lot of chances.
“They had a lot of possession, yes sure, that is normal against this team but I think this was the only way how we could play against such an opponent. We did it in a fantastic way.”
Saints’ struggles v the big six continue – the stats
- Manchester City have won each of their last six Premier League meetings with Southampton, extending their longest-ever winning run against Saints in league competition.
- City had to wait until the 70th minute for their first shot on target in this match, which resulted in Sergio Aguero scoring – it’s the longest they’ve had to wait for their first shot on target in a league match since December 2016 against Leicester (82nd minute).
- Southampton are winless in their last 20 away Premier League games against ‘big six’ teams (D4 L16), since a 2-1 win against Spurs in May 2016.
- Southampton have never kept a league clean sheet at the Etihad (10 games), with their last away shutout against Man City coming in the last ever match at Maine Road in May 2003 (1-0).
- Sergio Aguero has been involved in 10 goals in his last 10 Premier League games against Southampton (six goals, four assists).
- Man City’s Sergio Aguero has scored nine goals from his 10 shots on target in the Premier League this season, with his strike today the Citizens’ first effort on target in the match.
- Since the start of last season, only Danny Ings (11) has scored more Premier League goals for Southampton than James Ward-Prowse (nine).
What next? Liverpool test is fast approaching for City
After four successive home games, and four straight wins, City head to Italy for Wednesday’s Champions League game with Atalanta, knowing a win will make certain of their progress out of Group C (20:00 GMT kick-off)
Then comes a much shorter trip for their potentially pivotal Premier League clash with leaders Liverpool, at Anfield on Sunday (16:30)
Southampton also have a match against a Merseyside team on the horizon – their next league game is at home to Everton on Saturday (15:00).