City arrest slide

Sergio Aguero heads home Manchester City's third goal against Southampton just before half-time at St Mary's Stadium yesterday. The Argentinian's ninth league goal this season gave the champions a two-goal cushion, as Pep Guardiola's men returned to
Sergio Aguero heads home Manchester City's third goal against Southampton just before half-time at St Mary's Stadium yesterday. The Argentinian's ninth league goal this season gave the champions a two-goal cushion, as Pep Guardiola's men returned to winning ways after two straight losses.PHOTO: REUTERS

Pep's men bounce back from two straight losses to cut Liverpool's lead to seven points

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Southampton 1

Manchester City 3


LONDON • The alarm bells shrilled for Manchester City. Almost out of nowhere, they had lost three Premier League games out of four and, with Liverpool flicking on the after-burners, it is no exaggeration to say that another reverse would have imperilled their title defence.

Pep Guardiola and his players could feel a bit better after this. City imposed their front-foot football and, although they wobbled at times during the first half, they had too much for Ralph Hasenhuttl's rebooted Southampton.

The victory cut Liverpool's lead at the top of the table to seven points, ahead of Thursday's seismic clash between the clubs at the Etihad Stadium. Win that and City would be back in business.

They will have to tighten up on the finer details to do so. Defensively, there were flaws before the interval and it is doubtful whether Liverpool will afford them as many chances as Southampton did.

POTENTIAL DECIDER

The same as always, we want to win. It is one of those key games you live for. Every living soul that comes into the stadium on Thursday has to be ready to fight.

VINCENT KOMPANY, Man City captain, looking forward to the Liverpool clash.

Nevertheless, the positives far outweighed the negatives, after first-half goals from David Silva and Sergio Aguero, either side of a James Ward-Prowse own goal, gave them an unassailable cushion.

Southampton were second best and their frustrations were summed up by the dreadful Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg challenge on Fernandinho in the 85th minute that saw the home captain receive a straight red card.

Hojbjerg, who had earlier scored the Saints' equaliser, was high and out of control with a scissors-style tackle. Guardiola was incensed and he immediately withdrew Fernandinho, who had made an impressive comeback from a thigh injury.

The City manager had mentioned confidence - or the sudden lack of it - after the Boxing Day defeat at Leicester and what would have pleased him the most was how it returned. The early goal from David Silva certainly helped and it came when Southampton left great spaces down their left-hand side.

City might have been further in front before they were pegged back during an entertaining first half.

Raheem Sterling had outmuscled Jack Stephens only to be denied by Alex McCarthy while the Southampton goalkeeper blocked from Aguero at point-blank range following Sterling's low cross.

Southampton were level shortly after Ederson had kept out Charlie Austin's flick header from a corner with a diving one-handed save.

Oleksandr Zinchenko was the City villain, gifting possession to Hojbjerg, and it was an excellent finish from him. He drove into the area, shifted the ball smartly onto his right foot and sent his shot rising inside the near corner.

Southampton had their tails up and they shouted loudly for a penalty when Ward-Prowse took a raking crossfield ball and had the run on Zinchenko inside the area. There was a little contact and down he went but it did not feel sufficient for the penalty to be awarded.

City scored almost immediately and it was another hard-luck story for Ward-Prowse. Sterling darted into space inside the area and, when he crossed, the ball deflected wickedly off Ward-Prowse and flew inside the near corner.

City took a 3-1 lead into the interval when Zinchenko crossed and Jan Bednarek lost Aguero whose header squirmed underneath McCarthy. The one-two punch deflated Southampton and City eased to the win. Bring on Liverpool.

At Turf Moor, goals from Chris Wood (15th) and Dwight McNeil (34th) gave relegation-threatened Burnley a crucial 2-0 win over West Ham.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2018, with the headline 'City arrest slide'. Print Edition | Subscribe