City do what needs doing against undaunted Southampton

Dave Tickner
Raheem Sterling Southampton Manchester City

They really, really needed that. Even before Liverpool helped themselves to seven goals at Crystal Palace, City have given themselves no margin for error even in games as obviously difficult as this one.

It would be wrong to suggest Manchester City ever truly had things under anything like full control at St Mary’s against a really good Southampton, but what they did do was take three points away from home in a wildly entertaining game against a team playing well in general and on the day. City’s only other away win in the Premier League since the opening day at Wolves was against Sheffield United. It barely counts. This one definitely does.

There are still problems that City need to address before they can be considered anything like title contenders again. This game remained far too open for their liking, surely, despite some attempts at second-half pragmatism. Never did the points feel safe until the final whistle.

Going forward, City remain wasteful and profligate. There were plenty of examples, none more so than the two on two break in injury time that became a four-on-four break by the time it finished and which City overplayed in a ludicrous parody of their brand of football before Riyad Mahrez finally fired a shot over the bar.

It meant three more dicey minutes before a visibly agitated Pep Guardiola could celebrate a fraught but vital three points. But celebrate he could after what was genuinely one of the most entertaining Premier League games of the season.

The winning goal came early, barely 15 minutes into the game, and was nicely done. Six City players swarmed on a trademark Ederson long ball. Kevin De Bruyne won the second ball and soon got it back to cut back smartly for Raheem Sterling to sweep home.

It means City are now eight points behind Liverpool with a game in hand. After what happened earlier in the day, anything less than a win – away to a team that remains above them in the table – would’ve been unacceptable.

And they got it playing well. John Stones’ revival continues apace, while Bernardo Silva also impressed. There was far, far more pace – if not quite yet the precision of City at their best – to the attacks after the soporific effort at Old Trafford last weekend.

That City scored only once was in part down to their own wastefulness, but also the fact that Southampton were excellent. This too needs saying, and represents good news for both sides. For City, they beat a team that again looked every inch a top-six side. For Southampton, well, they still looked every inch a top-six side. From where they were a year ago, it’s an astonishing effort. And they still looked a constant threat even after Danny Ings was forced off through injury.

The only thing that interrupted the quick-fire end-to-end action for 95 minutes was the iffy Amazon stream. It was a fine game where nobody would have begrudged Southampton a point.

Apart from Manchester City, who are no longer in a position to be that generous. The title still looks beyond this particular City iteration, but everything else remains firmly up for grabs.

Dave Tickner