Manchester City finally stopped the rot that threatened to derail their title retention hopes down on the South Coast today strolling past Southampton 3-1. With Liverpool looking as though they were heading out of sight, all eyes will now be on the Etihad next Thursday when a win for the Blues will throw everything back into the melting pot and leave the Coachbusters looking over their shoulders.
With the Ashburton Grove Bottling Factory coming to full fruition at Shamfield yesterday, the Victims were able to stroll to a 5-1 win despite giving the white flag waving Gooners a one-goal start, and their lead at the top of the table was starting to look like a chasm.
But what a difference a Brazilian makes, and I don’t mean a ladies shave! Enter Fernandinho, exit the jitters.
City still haven’t paraded the killer trio of Fernandinho, Silva and de Bruyne in a Premier League match this season, but to have two of them back today made a difference from minute one. Even in the recent poor run, the Blues have generally got off the mark early and today was no exception. With a couple of chances not taken, Bernardo and Mahrez fashioned a one-two down the right. Bernardo’s precision pass found David in the box and he drove home the ball. Lift off.
But City failed to capitalise on their lead and McCarthy made a couple of excellent saves to keep the Blues at bay. Ederson also had to be alert from the odd Saints attack. He did get a chance to showcase his skills twice with neat side-steps of oncoming Southampton forwards. But then, just as in previous matches, City snoozed for a second and the Saints levelled. I’d just said to Sue that City had lost intensity when Zinchenko suffered a bout of sleeping sickness, got robbed by Hojbjerg, who went on to become the latest to score a career-best goal giving Ederson no chance.
Minutes later Zinchenko looked as though he had granted the Saints a penalty, although replays showed it was a fair shoulder charge and Ward-Prowse dived. Ward-Prowse got his comeuppance a minute later when Sterling turned the teenage debutant Ramsay around, shot for goal and found it deflect off Ward-Prowse to restore City’s lead.
A minute later, Zinchenko made amends for his misdemeanours by floating a delicious cross on to the head of Aguero, who headed into the bottom corner. He had already missed two acceptable chances.
That concluded the scoring as City had a 45-minute rest in the second half, retaining the ball at will, creating the odd chance, but almost everyone was guilty of misses. Sterling and Mahrez in particular when clean through. You cannot expect to see Mane and Salah miss those, not Firmino for that matter.
There was a collection of yellow cards in the second half, notably Aguero, Kompany and Danilo for thin-looking tackles, but Southampton scorer Hojbjerg received a red for an awful tackle on Fernandinho, who simply ran the show today.
City will have to be more alert at the back on Thursday. Any spaces they leave will be exploited better than the Saints could today, but a win changes everything and could introduce a jitter or two into the minds of the Coachbusters.
Great to see Fernandinho back. For me an easy selection as man-of-the-match.