Champions Manchester City moving up the gears

Manuel Pellegrini’s side swat Southampton aside to complete good eight days

Frank Lampard of Manchester City shoots past Maya Yoshida of Southampton to score their second goal during the Premier League match  at St Mary’s Stadium. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Frank Lampard of Manchester City shoots past Maya Yoshida of Southampton to score their second goal during the Premier League match at St Mary’s Stadium. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

 

Southampton 0 Manchester City 3

The champions are stirring. Manchester City’s third win in eight days has shaved the distance between them and Chelsea at the summit but, more significantly, breathed new conviction into those now closest in the pursuit. Manuel Pellegrini’s team have finally generated proper momentum in the title race.

Where City’s successes over Swansea last weekend and Bayern Munich in midweek had been rather chaotic, almost laced with desperation, this first win at Southampton in over a decade ended up feeling convincing.

A tight contest eventually gave way as quality told, even with the visitors reduced to 10 men by Eliaquim Mangala’s dismissal and, later, to nine when Vincent Kompany hobbled off. That pair’s absence makes Wednesday’s trip to Sunderland appear more awkward, but authority is clearly returning to this side’s approach.

There was panache to the way the visitors responded to Mangala’s loss, the manner in which the substitutes James Milner and Frank Lampard combined for the latter to dispatch his side’s second 10 minutes from time a reminder of pedigree.

Sergio Agüero, on his 100th appearance for the club, subsequently set up Gaël Clichy to add a third before the end with the home side deflated. Southampton have been a revelation all season but theirs is a daunting run through to mid-January, with two games against Manchester United and contests against Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton to come.

Second Captains

Not that they should be too downhearted in defeat. This had been a stern test of both these sides’ credentials, with each enjoying passages of dominance during the opening period, though neither could capitalise when their rhythm was at its most upbeat.

Even so, City were justifiably outraged to have been denied an early penalty when Agüero wriggled into the area and poked the ball beyond José Fonte, whose sliding challenge was mistimed and left the Argentinian grounded. Mike Jones was perfectly positioned to witness the foul, which made his decision to flash a yellow for a dive all the more mystifying.

It did rather sum up the referee’s uncertain display, with Pellegrini moved to complain to the fourth official after Mangala’s promising maraud up-field was checked by a belated offside flag against Southampton earlier in the build-up. The Chilean was incensed by the unwillingness to play the advantage and was duly warned, but his faith in Jones had clearly been eroded by Agüero’s caution.

The visitors might still have forced through a lead on the half-hour when Samir Nasri liberated Stevan Jovetic whose shot flew beyond Fraser Forster, but Toby Alderweireld improvised a block on the line.

The hosts, initially becalmed, had conjured a similar pinball in the box earlier in the contest when Ryan Bertrand and Sadio Mané combined before Morgan Schneiderlin’s clip into the area was poked tentatively at goal by Graziano Pellè. Joe Hart did well to block that attempt and better to deny Steven Davis from the follow-up before City regained their composure and scrambled clear. They were relieved to have survived other scrambles inside the six-yard box, invariably provoked by Davis’s set-play delivery, before their power finally told at the other end.

The visitors’ breakthrough was forged by slick approach play around the edge of the Southampton penalty area, home defenders passing up opportunities to clear their lines before Agüero glided into space and on to Fernandinho’s pass and picked out Yaya Touré. The Ivorian had gone ignored, the home ranks perhaps still adjusting to Schneiderlin’s departure at the interval with a thigh injury, as he charged on to the striker’s delivery with his low drive flicking off a home player and skimming beyond Forster.

They had appeared untroubled thereafter, Milner and Lampard busily shoring up midfield and Jesús Navas and Agüero passing up opportunities to extend the lead, before defensive uncertainty flared again.

The home side’s busy substitute, Shane Long, pounced on Touré’s indecision to steal possession and dart towards goal with Mangala felling the forward just outside the box. The Frenchman had already been booked for a foul on Dusan Tadic and was duly dismissed with Southampton sensing an opportunity. Then came Lampard’s decisive intervention and Clichy’s third, and City’s statement of intent had been delivered.

(Guardian Service)

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