City pick up where they left off
Manchester City 3 Southampton 2: Samir Nasri struck an 80th minute winner as Manchester City came from behind to begin the defence of their Premier League title with a patchy 3-2 win over promoted Southampton.
In similar scenes to May, when they came back to beat Queens Park Rangers 3-2 to seal the title, City went ahead through Carlos Tevez in the first half only for Southampton substitutes Rickie Lambert and Steven Davis to stun the home crowd.
Edin Dzeko then equalised following a corner and France midfielder Nasri took advantage of some lax defending to score the winner for Roberto Mancini's men, who lost Sergio Aguero to an early knee injury and missed a penalty through David Silva.
"It was like the last game of the season, we’ve started the same and I hope at the end it will be the same result for us," said man-of-the-match Nasri afterwards. "It was a difficult game. Southampton played really good football. It reminds me a little bit of Swansea last year, it was difficult but at the end we got three points.”
“Sometimes it’s a little bit difficult when you miss the first chance of the game, it can make the confidence a little bit low and they punished us. But I thought we showed great character. We didn’t panic. We said we can do it, we did it last year and for the remainder of the season we can do it.”
Of the team that started that momentous day in May, only Gareth Barry was missing from Roberto Mancini’s starting line-up. In his place, Jack Rodwell was introduced, although the debutant could do nothing to raise the tempo of a tepid opening half hour that included a double blow for City.
The loss of Aguero was a big worry. Brilliant in his first season at the club, and scorer of that title-winning goal, the Argentina forward tumbled awkwardly under an early Nathanial Clyne tackle. Although a few City fans sought to blame the young full-back, he was not responsible.
Aguero simply got himself tangled and the fact he did not move when he went down, was a tell-tale sign that the injury could be a bad one. After lengthy treatment, there was a brief moment of hope when the stretcher was ushered away and Aguero was able to hobble to the touchline.
It was soon back to carry him back to the dressing room though.
Early reports were encouraging and Mancini can only hope the damage, in one of the least congested periods of the season, is not too bad.
Without being near their best, it did seem City would make light of Aguero’s absence when Tevez turned far too smartly for Josh Hooiveld, whose attempt to do something constructive just inside the area only sent his opponent to the turf.
The initial surprise was that Tevez didn’t take the spot-kick himself. It looked even more of a strange decision when David Silva rolled a pathetic effort straight at Kelvin Davis.
These events, coupled with City’s general lethargy, gave Southampton genuine hope of springing a surprise. They had to reach the interval level. Tevez ensured they didn’t.
Tevez could not have timed his run any better as Nasri spotted him about to dart beyond Saints’ defence. This time Jose Miguel Fonte was the defender who failed to keep tabs on his opponent, and Tevez made him pay by drilling a low shot into the near post, its power giving Davis no chance of keeping it out.
It was only after half-time that the ghosts of May 13 began to swirl.
As Dzeko, Clichy and Silva all wasted excellent opportunities, a sense of foreboding began to gather.
After 27 goals in the Championship last season, Lambert’s omission had been something of a surprise in the first place.
Introduced by Adkins, the striker didn’t take long to make his mark, three minutes to be precise as he seized on a loose ball on the edge of the City box and guided it superbly into the corner of Joe Hart’s goal.
Worse was to come for the hosts when Rodwell gifted possession to Southampton inside his own half, allowing the visitors to pour forward.
Davis's impact was even quicker than Lambert's as he slid one past Hart from the edge of the box after a swift counter-attack and Southampton found themselves in front.
That they achieved it with hjsut 19 per cent possession made it all the more surreal, but the drama continued. Dzeko, who scored the stoppage-time equaliser against QPR back in May, pulled City level with a first-time shot after Vincent Kompany’s piledriver had been blocked. And 10 minutes from time Nasri belted home from 12 yards to complete yet another thrilling comeback.