Manchester City v Southampton
Wednesday, 29th November 2017
IBO Reporter : channonite
When the final whistle went, I was absolutely gutted for the Saints players. So close to coming away from the runaway Premier League leaders with a point.
Going into the game, I wasn't expecting anything. Well, nothing less than 3-0 to Manchester City anyway. As it turns out the entire team put their bodies and souls on the line and were superb. After so many games this season, where Saints have looked less than convincing and with little sign that the players had any idea how to score a goal, last weeks home game against Everton was a breath of fresh air. But, that was last week. This week was a different level of challenge, nothing less than Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. The current leaders of the Premier League have some pretty impressive stats. So far this season in the league they have played 13 games, winning 12 and drawing just once. In the course of those games they have scored 42 goals (an average of 3.23 per game!) and conceded just 8 times. No pressure then.
When the team was announced I did think it was just a bit negative. In goal was Forster and in front of him were Cédric, Yoshida, van Dijk, Hoedt and Bertrand. Yes, three centre backs and we know how that worked out the last time Mauricio Pellegrino tried this - against the mighty Wolves (Sorry Wolves). Not content with this, the midfield was Højbjerg, Romeu and Lemina. Yes, MP had fitted all three of our midfield likely lads in. Which left just two places, which were filled by Redmond and Long.
When the match started two things quickly became clear. Firstly the players were putting everything into the game, not something they could always be accused of this season. The second thing was that MP seemed to have nailed the selections. Exactly the right call for the right game.
The amazing thing for me, was to see the Saints players soaking up the pressure well and catching Manchester City on the break. Added to which Forster seemed to be the commanding presence at the back that we used to see.
My notes from the first half are hilarious, quite sensible for the first 15 minutes, during which Hoedt hit the Man City crossbar and Forster made the first of umpteen (that is the technical term) saves during that first 45 minutes. From then on I was reduced to squiggles, as my anxiety got the better of me. If Saints had been as hopeless as they were at Liverpool, then I am sure I would have been more composed, but damn it, Saints were actually playing very well. They had an even better chance when van Dijk got a downward header to the feet of Yoshida, who was not more then 5ft from goal. The Japanese international managed to sky his stabbed shot over the net.
At this stage of the season, City are absolutely breathtaking going forward. They move the ball so quickly, that defenders just get pulled all over the place. Except this game. Saints back line were superb, keeping their shape and yet quick on the counter.
Much to my surprise we got to halftime and the score was still 0-0. Not what I was expecting at all. We had a proper contest on our hands. The players were playing out of their collective skins and Højbjerg was having another standout game in the middle of the park, orchestrating things, prompting and passing. There was one simply sublime pass to Redmond out on the left wing that stuck in my mind.
The second half did not start very well. Within two minutes the ball was in Saints net. The very impressive De Bruyne shot/passed towards goal from out on the left wing into a crowd of players, none of whom seemed to know where the ball was and several of whom stuck their feet in the general direction of the ball. So, when the ball ended in the net, nobody was quite sure who had scored. Initially Otamendi claimed it, but then it was down as a van Dijk own goal. This was changed later by the officials to credit De Bruyne, but having watched the replay several times, I think it was an own goal, but I will bet Virgil was happy for it to be credited to de Bruyne.
So, the first goal had been scored by City, would the flood gates open now?
No, far from it. Saints stuck to their task. Forster flew left and right and eventually their persistence got it's reward. The root of the success came in the 64th minute, when the excellent Højbjerg was replaced by Boufal. Less than nine minutes later. From a corner, which overshot the goal Boufal incredibly trapped the ball, almost on the byline and in one movement squared the ball to Romeu, who lashed a shot past Ederson in the city goal. 1-1 and 15 minutes of normal time left.
This is when the match became an adult version of a child watching Dr.Who from behind the sofa. I didn't make any notes from that moment on, I fought for every ball, took every kick. God knows what my blood pressure was.
It can't last I remember thinking, as the minutes slowly, oh so slowly ticked by. Austin came on for Long in the 83rd minute. I have no real idea why. With about four minutes remaining Cédric made a particularly crucial interception and he was mobbed by his teammates as though he had scored the winning goal. Unfortunately, no such luck, he was injured. It looked like a hamstring. He was quickly replaced by McQueen. What a time for him to come on.
Full time came. Still 1-1. The 4th official indicated 5 minutes. Where had that come from? Now with my hands on my face, I could hardly bear to listen. The minutes tick by. The ball is in Saints net. Forster is out at the edge of his area and the referee is indicating a free kick to Saints. No goal.
Five minutes must be up, but then. Then Stirling gets the ball and passes to de Bruyne, who passes it back to Stirling. Fully 20 yards out, the Englishman strikes and it curls into the top right corner of Forster's net. Goal. 2-1. Pandemonium at the Etihad. Saints players sink as one to their knees, as the City players celebrate.
The game kicks off again and immediately Mr. Tierney blows for full time.
Absolutely gutted. Sometimes football can be very cruel.
Man of the Match
Again there were several candidates. Boufal was inspirational again. What a player he is turning into. Højbjerg was again a huge presence in the midfield. The whole backline were superb, but for me the sight of Fraser Forster pulling off save after save is seared into my memory. So he gets the nod today. So often for too long, he has looked a shadow of the goalkeeper he used to be. Today he was back. In fact the whole team appears to be back. Two completely different games, with two different formations. Maybe Mauricio Pellegrino may yet get a grip of the Premier League.
4 Kompany - Booked 36'
17 De Bruyne
8 Gündogan (Bernardo Silva 80')
33 Jesus (Silva 74')
20 Bernardo Silva
2 Cédric (McQueen 87')
17 van Dijk
23 Højbjerg (Boufal 64')
7 Long - Booked 66' (Austin 83')
Manchester City 2
- De Bruyne 47'
- Sterling 90'+6
- Romeu 75'
Referee : Paul Tierney
Attendance : 53,407
- Manchester City 74%
- Southampton 26%
- Manchester City 26
- Southampton 6
Shots on Target
- Manchester City 12
- Southampton 2
- Manchester City 6
- Southampton 5
- Manchester City 12
- Southampton 11