SOUTHAMPTON, England — Three quick thoughts from Manchester City’s 3-0 Premier League win over Southampton at St. Mary’s on Saturday.
1. A comfortable win (in the end) for City
Things are looking up for Pep Guardiola. In the late evening sunshine, against a Southampton side that had frustrated and troubled them for the better part of an hour, Manchester City stepped up a gear and took them to pieces. Goals from captain Vincent Kompany, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero secured a 3-0 victory that, for 24 hours at least, lifts them to third in the Premier League. With an FA Cup still to play for, perhaps this isn’t going to be an entirely fruitless debut season in England for the former Barcelona boss.
City are now seven points ahead of Manchester United and, while they have played two more games, Jose Mourinho’s draw specialists will need to find a ruthless streak if they’re to reel in their crosstown rivals. For some time here, it seemed that City’s own lack of cutting edge would cost them.
This was a frustrating first half for Guardiola. City dominated possession, rattling up nearly 400 passes before the break and creating a string of chances. But not one of them was on target. Aguero missed three in the first 10 minutes alone, but the biggest culprit was David Silva, who blasted into the side netting from close range 10 minutes before the break when Aguero had teed him up with a deft chip into the six-yard box. But they were left aggrieved not to have won a penalty after 36 minutes.
It was then that Sane, whose mother was an Olympic sprinter, tore through on goal and tried to zip around Fraser Forster. The Southampton goalkeeper thrust out a ham-sized mitt and made the slightest connection with the ball before making the slightest connection with Sane, which, at the pace he was travelling, proved enough to bring him down. Neil Swarbrick, seeing the deviation of the ball, played it safe, awarding neither a penalty nor a booking for Sane. Not that this act of mercy would have cheered up any watching City fans, however.
Southampton could at least share in their frustration in front of goal. Dusan Tadic wasted their biggest chance after quarter of an hour, blazing over after excellent work from Nathan Redmond and Manolo Gabbiadini. With returning captain Steven Davis in a typically creative mood, Southampton caused City frequent problems, moving the ball about sharply, testing Claudio Bravo with floating crosses that he was forced to slap away.
City were out early for the second half, primed and ready. Having seen James Ward-Prowse go close with a well-struck free kick, Jesus Navas responded in kind in open play, drawing a smart save from Forster, who tipped his shot over the bar. But from that corner, Kompany clattered in the opening goal and Southampton’s resistance was broken.
There was another success for a troubled City player as the second half wore on: a header from Maya Yoshida, comfortably claimed by Bravo. It was the first shot on target in eight that hadn’t gone past him, and it brought jubilant celebrations in the away end.
With 14 minutes to go, the game was effectively over. Sane, denied that penalty in the first half, was presented with a chance to make up for it by Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian midfielder broke through Southampton’s lines, raced into space and slid the ball across for Sane to deliver the simplest of finishes. And there was still time for Aguero to put the gloss on the scoreline, heading in from close range to make it 3-0 with 10 minutes to go.
Aguero loves this time of the year. This was the 12th successive Premier League game in which he has scored in April.
That gave the City fans a relaxed last 10 minutes and a chance to treat the home fans to a repertoire of their songs, a chance that sadly many of them missed out as they slipped away to the exits. City aren’t going to win the league, or even challenge for it, but given how things looked in January, you suspect their fans will be quite happy to finish third.
2. Kompany is back
His winning goal, an emphatic header from a second-half corner, will guarantee him the headlines, but this was a fine all-round performance from Kompany. With Southampton eager to cause problems, the Belgian centre-back was called into action early, steeping out of defence three times in the first five minutes to shut their attacks down.
After a troublesome first half demanded composure and renewed effort, it was unsurprising that it was he who made the breakthrough for City, piling in on Yoshida and smashing his header into the back of the net. The ferocity of his celebration in front of the City fans told its own story. This was only his fifth Premier League appearance in a season, and perhaps a career, destroyed by injury. Days like this show why City have missed him so terribly.
3. Nothing for Saints to be ashamed of
With 40 points on the board and little of note for which to play, you might have expected a timid performance from Southampton, but Claude Puel’s side aren’t quite ready for their holidays yet. They came into this game having picked up seven points from their past three fixtures and threatened to increase their tally on numerous occasions, only to let themselves down with wayward finishing.
Puel hasn’t had it easy this season. Replacing Ronald Koeman, who had secured seventh- and sixth-place finishes, was a thankless task, and it didn’t take long for a section of Southampton supporters to start voicing their doubts at his appointment. A switch away from an unpopular diamond formation has helped to settle the mood, and a run to the League Cup final didn’t hurt either, but the team’s performances in this final stage of the season should bring encouragement.
Southampton have regressed this season, but that’s hardly surprising given the loss of Sadio Mane to Liverpool and Virgil van Dijk to injury. This looks a heavy defeat, but it wasn’t a bad performance.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.