Fernandinho and David Silva help Manchester City find their groove again
Spanish midfielder opens the scoring as City get back to winning ways with 3-1 win against 10-man Southampton
Perhaps it was the return to the ground where Manchester City brought up 100 points last season, but this was a reminder of how and why they became centurions. Perhaps it was no coincidence that, after two straight defeats, they triumphed when Fernandinho and David Silva started again but, like much of the first four months of the season, it ranked as another game City won without Kevin de Bruyne.
It was not a perfect afternoon for City, who endured a 10th consecutive match without a clean sheet, but after relinquishing leads against Crystal Palace and Leicester City, they could take solace from the way that, having been pegged back again, they rallied to rescue the result and reclaim second place from Tottenham Hotspur.
“We've had our pride hurt a little bit,” said the recalled Vincent Kompany. “We had a point to prove,” said Raheem Sterling. Plenty did. He was irrepressible and, while City’s second goal was debited to James Ward-Prowse, it again showed the winger’s habit of making catalytic contributions.
After a spell on the sidelines, Sergio Aguero scored his first goal for a month, also hit the bar with a shot on the turn, and could have had a hat-trick in a display to indicate he has recaptured his sharpness. “The way we ran on and off the ball was brilliant,” added Sterling. If he and Aguero were elusive, so were the two Silvas, David and Bernardo as, despite fielding three centre-backs, Southampton struggled to track runners in the final third.
They can at least be grateful that, barring an FA Cup draw, they will not face City again this season. After losing 6-1 to the champions under Mark Hughes, they might have suffered a repeat result under his successor as Ralph Hasenhuttl followed consecutive victories with back-to-back losses. But for a quartet of saves from the excellent Alex McCarthy, denying Silva and Aguero before each scored and stopping Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, this could have been far heavier.
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In Hasenhuttl’s defence, the fact he made six changes showed his side are not yet equipped to play his high-energy game every three days. Their goal came from pressing, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg robbing Oleksandr Zinchenko and advancing to unleash an unstoppable shot. They could lament two fine first-half saves from Ederson to deny Charlie Austin and wonder what might have happened had Ward-Prowse been awarded a penalty when challenged clumsily by Zinchenko while the scores were tied. And yet defeat was damaging. Hojbjerg, Southampton’s outstanding player this season, collected his second red card and a four-match ban for a lunge at Fernandinho.
Thankfully for City, the integral Brazilian seemed unscathed. His midfield sidekicks completed the game and started the scoring. Bernardo Silva surged into the inside-right channel to meet Mahrez’s pass and cut the ball back for his namesake. David Silva offered further evidence of his ability to find space in the penalty box to score his ninth goal of a productive campaign.
After Hojbjerg struck, Sterling’s cross was deflected in by the luckless Ward-Prowse. As the game swung either way in the final 15 minutes of the first half, Zinchenko, the third-choice left-back who had looked fallible defensively, provided a measure of redemption with the cross Aguero headed in.
It could have been more emphatic, but a statement of class and confidence came in the 19th minute. Their passing ethos was epitomised by a risky ball back to Ederson. He kept possession and seconds later and 80 yards upfield, Mahrez almost doubled their lead with a curler. It would have been a wonderful goal, but a fine result sufficed.
Updated: December 30, 2018 08:39 PM