Winning becomes a thrilling habit for Manchester City
Manchester City 3 Southampton 2: Nasri rescues Mancini's men with a late goal, though Aguero departs with a worrying injury
When Manchester City came from behind to beat Queen's Park Rangers on the thrilling final day of last season, we knew they were creating history. However, on yesterday's evidence it would seem that Roberto Mancini's team were also establishing a tradition.
For their second Premier League match in succession yesterday, City came from behind to win. It will take something pretty special to beat Sergio Aguero's 93rd-minute winner against QPR 14 weeks earlier but this was not a bad start. Take the lead, throw it away, come back in style, put your own supporters through sheer torture and win the match: it must be the new City way.
No Premier League champions have ever lost the first game of the following season, but with 20 minutes of the match remaining and a goal behind, the home crowd at the Etihad Stadium was wondering if the club's capacity for colossal bullet-in-own-foot moments was back with a vengeance.
City were trailing to goals from Rickie Lambert and Steven Davis, both substitutes who scored soon after coming into the game. At the same time, Aguero was already in the dressing room with a nasty-looking knee injury. In his place, Edin Dzeko and others had missed a few. Early days and all that but still, the home support thought these kind of cock-ups were supposed to be behind them.
This was a brilliantly spirited Southampton performance and it very nearly got them over the line. With three debutants in the team and the 17-year-old James Ward-Prowse in midfield, they could never have expected to have found themselves so close to winning. And yet by the time that City had finished with them, that brief possibility of victory felt very distant indeed.
Now that they are champions there is a greater certainty about Mancini's team; however much they wobbled there was always a sense they could put it right. Carlos Tevez, especially in the absence of Aguero, was inspirational, as was Samir Nasri, the scorer of the winning goal. A nod, too, in the direction of the indefatigable Yaya Touré, who really does have the power to change games on his own.
Even with that cast of players at his disposal, there was still scarcely concealed horror on the face of Mancini at the prospect of Aguero being carried off on a stretcher after 16 minutes. Nathaniel Clyne reached across the striker with his left foot to make clean contact with the ball but the damage was done in Aguero's fall. His right knee flexed unnaturally as he went over Clyne's legs.
There is no hard evidence on the extent of Aguero's injury yet, but Mancini did not try to dismiss the logic afterwards that a prolonged absence for the striker could change the club's transfer plans in the last two weeks of the August window. In public, certainly Mancini is unlikely to spare Brian Marwood, City's de facto director of football, if the news is bad.
Three minutes after Aguero departed on his back, City resumed normal service. A passing sequence that went from David Silva via a flick from Nasri to Tevez opened up Southampton and Tevez, who had spun off Jos Hooiveld, got himself usefully entangled in the process and went down for a penalty.
The usual candidate for City's penalties is Mario Balotelli, but he was on the bench. Second choice is Aguero, who was already off the pitch. Silva assumed the role in their absence – although it might well be for the last time. He hit an alarmingly casual shot low and close to Kelvin Davis's left that was saved easily.
For the second part of that half, Southampton lived quite comfortably with the champions. Their 4-3-3 formation switched to 4-5-1 when they were defending, which was most of the time, and the midfield of Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and Ward-Prowse attempted to pass the ball. They deserved to hold on until half-time but a second's lapse against this lot and you find yourself on the canvas.
In truth, Tevez was offside when he ran off Jose Fonte onto Nasri's through ball with five minutes of the half remaining. The striker beat Davis at his near post with the goalkeeper damned whichever way he committed himself.
That should have been the end of it for Southampton, who were staring down the barrel four minutes after half-time when Nasri doubled back on Clyne on the touchline and crossed for Dzeko. The Bosnian's subsequent miss was the first of a number for City. Gaël Clichy volleyed a Yaya Touré cross over and Silva hit the bar after Davis had saved from Tevez; all that was before Lambert equalised before the hour.
On as a substitute for Jay Rodriguez and likely to be put out that he did not start, Lambert first tried to prod the ball through to Guly Do Prado. When that pass was blocked by Joleon Lescott he swept the ball past Joe Hart first time with his right foot.
Southampton's second was an awkward moment for Jack Rodwell, who gave the ball away deep in the away team's half after a City corner had been cleared. Nevertheless it was some effort from Lallana to carry the ball up the pitch and after two exchanges with Steven Davis, the latter struck a purposeful shot past Hart.
With 20 minutes left there was still time for City to rescue it, first drawing level with a finish from Dzeko at close range after Vincent Kompany's shot was blocked. Then Danny Fox's poor clearing header fell straight to Nasri to score with 10 minutes left. Job done for City. If they intend to make it as entertaining as this every week, this truly will be the hottest ticket in town.
Manchester City 3
Tevez 40, Dzeko 72, Nasri 80
Lambert 59, S Davis 68
Substitutes: Manchester City Dzeko 6 (Aguero, 14), Balotelli (Silva, 72), Kolarov (Tevez, 87). Southampton Lambert 7 (Rodriguez, 55), S Davis 6 (Ward-Prowse, 65), Sharp (Puncheon, 86). Booked: MC Nasri. So'ton Fox, Schneiderlin.
Man of match: Nasri.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Manchester City 64% Southampton 36%
Attempts on target: MC 15. So'ton 6.
Referee H Webb (South Yorks).
Arsenal strengthened their grip on a top-four finish with a straightforward 3-0 win over Hull City.
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