Southampton 1 Manchester City 1: Some Thoughts

Date: 8th December 2013 at 10:24 am
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Southampton's Pablo Osvaldo, left, scores against Manchester City in the Premier League at St Mary's

For the second season running, a 90 minutes at the St. Marys Stadium that felt like three hours. A point is no disaster, but the performance brought back worrying issues over City’s performances away from home.

So City move 7 points clear of the reigning champions, surely putting them in pole position for a 2nd Premier League title….oh, hang on.

The line-up for once contained little to surprise, the only bone of contention being James Milner coming in for Jesus Navas, whilst Kolarov retained his place. You could see the logic behind it though, Pellegrini seeking Milner’s graft to shore things up. It didn’t work though.

For all Southampton’s merits, they were missing key players and were coming off three defeats. It should have been a good time to play them.

But yet again the formation seemed all wrong. City’s poor performances away often result either from individual mistakes or from losing the midfield battle and with only four in midfield City once more lost the midfield battle (not overwhelmingly, but still…), often seemingly outnumbered in the middle third. Having said that, as mentioned later, a change in formation in the second half changed little.

Worryingly, the team also seemed tired, which considering the run of games coming, is disconcerting (if true).

For all the criticism every time Edin Dzeko starts, Alvaro Negredo has offered little more away from home, and this game was little different, as he offered less than Dzeko did midweek. As I have also mentioned though, this is not just about him, as he is part of the wider picture, a whole team that fails to perform much of the time when away from Manchester.

City started brightly, were creative and took the lead through Aguero. All seemed well, and then yet again they lost their grip on the game. The team continues to struggle against teams that harry and press high up the pitch, especially when that team is adept at passing.

City’s front two looked sluggish, though things may have panned out very differently if Negredo had controlled better when through early on or if Aguero had not thrashed the ball over in the first-half, as did Nasri late-on and early in the second half. Having said that, you could not argue that Southampton did not deserve at least a draw, and City created virtually nothing of note in the second half. Again.

Apart from one cross that he should have intercepted that resulted in a header wide for Southampton, Pantilimon did well, and was the best of a bad bunch, with one stand-out save in the second half. There is no sign of Joe Hart returning to the league side in the foreseeable future.

What the game reiterated is the need for reinforcements in central-defence. Demichelis has done ok, but he is certainly a tad rash, dives in too much for my liking and has been well-documented, is not the quickest. He is fine as a back-up defender, perhaps our 4th choice, but if he is to have a long run in the team it puts the team at risk. Lescott is on longer good enough either for a long-run in the team (nor Boyata) and with an injury-prone first-choice pairing, another body is needed in the squad.

As for Vincent Kompany, his performance was less assertive than his comeback match, and he struggled along with everyone else, turned repeatedly for the goal and almost giving Osvaldo an assist in the second half.

It’s rare you see City come away from a game with only 45% possession, fewer shots than their opposition and a mere 74% pass completion rate. On this occasion the stats portray a fairly accurate picture.

At least we have a manager who is prepared to make difficult decisions. For all his skill, it is about time Yaya Youre got substituted, after another half-arsed performance. That might be a bit harsh, it might not, but he more than anyone struggles against a team that presses hard. And for all his and Fernandinho’s talents, neither is a natural ball-winner in the way De Jong was and both do leave space in midfield.

I’d suggest Jack Rodwell as another option, but he is quickly becoming the forgotten man of Manchester City.

Eventually Pellegrini did change things around, with an extra man in midfield and with Yaya Toure pushed forward when Negredo came off. It made little difference to the pattern of play and nor did resorting back to two upfront when Dzeko came on. No subs made much of an impression.

In isolation it was not a bad point, especially in conjunction with the United and Chelsea results, but the problem is that City are playing catch-up for previous errors and there is little room for manoeuvre unless Arsenal implode, which I do not believe they will.

But let’s look at the positives – it was a better performance than we put in there last season. And somehow, City are still favourites for the league – though may not be by the end of the weekend.

It’s just as well that Tuesday’s match is not a must-win, as Bayern Munich won 7-0 away this weekend, without an injured Arjen Robben. Who knows though what teams will line-up for the final group game.

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