The sting in the tale for Manchester City came at Villa Park. On a day when they were insipid and ineffectual and Pep Guardiola was irritated and frustrated, the eventual cause of annoyance for the departing fans came when they realised that Liverpool, too, had conjured a comeback. City had come from behind themselves in a game when they were far below their best but eventually victorious.
Southampton were denied a restorative, redemptive win, even if a team who were embarrassed by last week’s 9-0 thrashing by Leicester acquitted themselves far better. They led for almost an hour, showed conviction and coherence and departed defeated in the final quarter.
They threatened an improbable win until Sergio Aguero latched on to Kyle Walker’s low cross to provide a terrific first-time finish. After a midweek brace against Southampton in the Carabao Cup, the Argentinian was their scourge again. So, surprisingly, was the right-back.
Walker scored the eventual decider, sliding in to convert Angelino’s cross on the half-volley. It was a fine moment for both full-backs, with the Spaniard making his first Premier League start, but one to forget for the Southampton goalkeeper, with Alex McCarthy distracted by Gabriel Jesus’ presence and missing the left-back’s centre.
Another unexpected part was that McCarthy, replacing the dropped Angus Gunn, was a spectator for so long. Southampton had a second shock in successive weeks: after record thrashing by Leicester came the surprise of Saints leading at the Etihad Stadium. For almost an hour, they were the only side to even work a goalkeeper. City failed to record a shot on target for 70 minutes; this was scarcely in the script when the top scorers met the team with statistically the worst defence.
Yet the performance spoke of defensive improvement. The scale of the capitulation against Leicester drew a reaction. At times there was a policy of safety in numbers at the back: there was an incident in open play when all 11 Saints were inside their penalty area.
Meanwhile, City had possession and exerted pressure but displayed a strange impotence. The numbers showed plenty of shots, but they were of the harmless variety. John Stones and Aguero headed over the bar, but few other chances were that clear-cut. Guardiola was visibly exasperated. He hauled off his captain at the break, removing David Silva for Jesus and playing 4-2-3-1.
But after Aguero struck a winner felt inevitable. McCarthy saved from both Bernardo Silva and Aguero. Kevin de Bruyne shot narrowly wide. But City acquired momentum and, finally, the three points.
The goal they had conceded was an individual error. The unexpected part was that Ederson was the errant individual. The Brazilian has saved City repeated this season. When he made a rare mistake, it resulted in a goal. Ederson spilled Stuart Armstrong’s shot and James Ward-Prowse pounced to poke in the rebound. It brought hope, but City eventually extinguished it.
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