Holders Manchester City were held to a goalless draw by Southampton at the Etihad Stadium this evening. City became the second Manchester side to lose points against Southampton this season. The Saints also held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw in August.
City are now at the 2nd position in the league table with 10 points from five matches. Whereas Southampton are 15th with four points from the same number of matches.
Manchester City’s official Twitter page acknowledged the disappointment:
On that note, let’s now take a look at the three factors which stood out in the match:
#1 Manchester City missed a clinical striker in their line-up in the first half
As expected, Manchester City were the dominant team in the first half. They enjoyed over 60% ball possession, and had more attempts. However, none of those attempts were on target. They also missed a clinical striker like Sergio Aguero in the key moments of the match.
City started the match with a 4-3-3 formation. But their front three consisted of Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, none of whom can be called clinical finishers. Sterling again started as a centre-forward, but could not make much of an impact in the first half. He had a solitary good chance before half-time, but failed to keep his shot on target from inside the penalty box.
City’s formation often became 4-1-5, with both Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva joining the attack at times. Gundogan was often their most advanced player, but failed to put the ball inside the goal with a free header from a Kyle Walker cross. On another occasion, Silva failed to reach a Jesus cross from the right flank when he had only the Southampton goalkeeper to beat.
#2 City were too dependent on attacks through the left in the first half
In the first half, City primarily attacked through the left flank, but struggled to create the same impact through the right. Grealish often tried to cut in from the left flank and managed to enter the penalty box on a few occasions. Moreover, he was able to reach the opposition’s goal line on a few occasions, and delivered a few crosses from there.
Joao Cancelo, a natural right-back who had started on the left, also managed to reach Southampton’s goal-line on a couple of occasions. But his crosses were dealt with quite ably by the Southampton defense.
However, City failed to create any major openings through the right flank in the first half. Jesus and Walker only had a couple of crosses to show for. None of them succeeded in dribbling past Southampton’s left back and reaching the goal line.
#3 City made substitutions in the second half as VAR intervened repeatedly
Pep Guardiola threw in Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez in the second half to add impetus to the attack. Both those players had started on the bench after having played in the midweek Champions League 6-3 victory against RB Leipzig.
However, a few minutes before their introduction, a penalty was awarded to Southampton by the on-field referee. This was after Walker had challenged Adam Armstrong inside the box. But VAR intervened and the penalty was ruled out after proper crosscheck.
A few minutes later, Phil Foden replaced Silva in the City midfield, but the home side continued to struggle to get near the opposition goal. De Bruyne did his bit by creating a few moves from midfield with his vision and astute passing.
In the dying minutes of the match, Sterling finally managed to find the net for City. This came after the ball had rebounded off the gloves of the Southampton goalkeeper, who had brilliantly saved a header from Foden.
However, Sterling was deemed to be in an offside position by the linesman and the decision was shown to be correct after another intervention by VAR. The match ended in a stalemate and Guardiola would be far from satisfied with the result.