It was deja-vu all over again for Manchester City as the Premier League champions opened their title defence with a thrilling win over newly promoted Southampton.
Manchester City seal dramatic win over Southampton
Manchester City 3 Southampton 2
MANCHESTER // This is identity theft. Pinching Manchester United’s title was one thing, but now Manchester City have developed their characteristics, too. They are the new comeback kings. Just as City did on the final day of last season, they contrived to lose a lead and trail rank outsiders at home. Then, thrillingly, came the fightback that secured the points. City, it seems, are never more dangerous than when they are trailing.
In successive league matches, either side of the summer break, the Etihad Stadium has staged thrilling 3-2 victories. The first, against Queens Park Rangers, earned City their first top-flight title in 44 years. The second, against Southampton, left them wondering what its cost will be. Because even as City surged past Saints, Sergio Aguero was already sidelined.
Last season’s top scorer only lasted seven minutes, missing the drama that followed and, potentially, quite a bit of City’s season.
His strike partner, Carlos Tevez, scored their first goal, his replacement, Edin Dzeko, the second and Samir Nasri the dramatic winner.
As they did against QPR, City salvaged the points dramatically and decisively. Thankfully for their supporters’ heart rate, they did it earlier. Ten minutes remained when Nasri latched on to a poor defensive header from Danny Fox to restore City’s advantage.
Following on from an excellent performance in the Community Shield last weekend, it was enough to earn him his manager’s praise.
“Samir should play always like he did today and against Chelsea,” Roberto Mancini said.
His prevailing emotion, however, was not joy or relief but concern. “I am worried,” he admitted, discussing the early exit of Aguero. “It is his knee. We hope it is not serious. We need to wait for maybe two days for a scan.”
As the City manager accepted, Southampton right-back Nathaniel Clyne was blameless after a forceful but fair challenge left the Argentine in agony. Whatever the long-term consequences of Aguero’s injury, an immediate result was a change of penalty taker.
And when Tevez spun away from Jos Hooiveld – the Argentine going one way, the Dutchman the other – and went to ground, David Silva stepped up. But his effort lacked conviction and Kelvin Davis saved.
The preceding move was evidence of City’s slick interplay; Nasri flicking a Silva pass into Tevez’s path. The diminutive, dark-haired trio provided the inspiration and the invention. Two combined for the breakthrough, Nasri bending a ball forward and Tevez again fooling a visiting centre-back – Jose Fonte this time – with his movement to burst clear and beat Davis.
“Somebody said it was offside,” rued the Southamption manager Nigel Adkins.
A flurry of City chances followed, all squandered, with Dzeko, Gael Clichy and Silva the culprits. Profligacy proved a problem when Southampton rallied, two substitutes scoring in quick succession. They are a club who have come from League One in successive seasons and one player, in particular, has played a huge role in their elevation.
Nevertheless, Rickie Lambert has taken the long route to the top flight. The Liverpudlian is 30; indeed, he was 29 before he even appeared in the Championship. After scoring 88 goals in three seasons on the South Coast, his initial omission appeared harsh.
But making up for lost time has been a theme of his career and, four minutes after his introduction, he duly did. After a break from the 17-year-old James Ward-Prowse, he attempted to find strike partner Guly do Prado. But as the ball bounced back off Joleon Lescott, Lambert let fly, curling a shot beyond Joe Hart in the City goal.
If that was improbable, what followed was incredible. Jack Rodwell’s debut took a turn for the worse when, with City camped in Southampton territory, his pass was intercepted by Adam Lallana. Some 70 yards further forward, Lallana then laid the ball back into the path of Steven Davis to guide his shot past the England No 1 Hart.
“We didn’t play well with our defenders but it is not always their fault,” Mancini said.
The Southampton back four were overworked as City responded. Dzeko levelled from close range, leaving it to Nasri to steal the show.
“We’re a team that have got back-to-back promotions,” said Adkins. “We know this year is going to be massively challenging. Our players should gain some confidence.”
But City took the points and another step towards becoming the new United.
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