The Champions came from behind to win with a late goal to secure the three points needed to keep up with league leaders Liverpool. It was a difficult afternoon for the Blues, as they struggled to break down Southampton when they went ahead early in the game. It was getting down to the wire, but like so many times before, City found a way to win.
Here’s five things we learned from the game…
Déjà vu Defending
There was a moment in the match emblematic of the entire game. Southampton’s goalkeeper Alex McCarthy picked the ball up from a back pass which resulted in a City free kick within the Saints’ penalty area. Once the free kick was taken, it was like the wildebeest stampede in the Lion King, as all of Southampton’s defence charged down the ball as one.
The away team played like this for almost the entire match – with a low block so deep they only intended to touch the ball by impeding or clearing it. It wasn’t the first time this tactic has been used at the Etihad and it won’t be the last. After seasons of getting thrashed, most opposition are all too aware of how good Pep Guardiola’s side are on the ball that they’ve given up trying to compete.
Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side eventually succumbed to the pressure they were under, but for a long time the City win looked in doubt. To combat the low block, Pep’s tactic seems to be crossing the ball into the box and hoping for the best, which might have once suited Edin Dzeko, but not forwards too small to ride the ‘Big One’ in Blackpool.
It’s doubtful that upcoming opposition Atalanta and Liverpool are going to employ this game plan, but the blues need to find another way of breaking sides like Southampton down or face losing more points in what will be another tight title race.
Make No Mistakes
Ederson has been in such fine form that he would normally be forgiven for spilling the ball as he did for James Ward-Prowse’s goal. But this isn’t going to be a normal season.
Our goalkeeper and defence are going to need to be ready and alert for anything when the eventual opposition counter-attack hits. Ederson’s mistake today allowed Southampton to sit as deep as they wanted afterward and led to an incredibly frustrating game for City’s forwards.
In the first half the Saints had one shot on goal, one shot on target, and one goal to show for it. All it took was a single error. In the end it’s inconsequential to the overall season, but with teams around City doing as well as they are, I don’t know if we can afford to cry over spilled balls.
Attacking against eleven defenders resulted in less space to find any route toward goal. So when the opportunity struck, we had to take it. There were a few times when City didn’t do that today. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva both had a poor game, with both losing the ball too easily in possession.
Out of 26 shots on goal, only 4 were on target. The front line have been have already been accused of not taking their chances by Pep this season. Sterling and Jesus were 2 on 1 against the Southampton defence late in the match and Sterling dithered on the ball for so long, the opportunity to put his team out of reach passed him by.
While Raheem has been showing everyone he’s one of the best players in the world, today he showed that he can still improve.
Full-Backs Find The Answer
After 70 minutes of near-relentless pressure, Southampton finally started to show signs of weakness. City’s first goal came from a wide cross after Kyle Walker managed to run beyond the back line. The second goal came from a deep cross when Angelino was allowed enough time on the ball to properly pick his spot. There were many crosses before this, but they didn’t have the accuracy needed to trouble the goalkeeper.
This may be the best way for City to deal with low-block opposition in the future, utilising full-backs as wing-backs and combining passes with the forwards and number eights to create more space high-up and widen the pitch.
While it may leave less defenders to deal with counter-attacks, at the moment this seems to be the best solution. Walker and Angelino both had fantastic games today at a time when both were being looked on as back-ups in their positions.
We Fight ‘Til The End
Not necessarily something we’ve learned, but certainly something we needed reminding of. For all the doom and gloom in the previous points raised, the fact is that Manchester City won today. It wasn’t pretty but their patience paid off. The players never thought that the game was lost even when some fans did and at full time we saw how much it meant to them.
We’ve seen many memorable late wins for Pep’s side and it’s spurred them on to record breaking, title winning seasons. Let’s hope that when this season is said and done, we will look back on today’s game with the same affection as the all important late winners that have preceded it.
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