The Premier League Champions played superbly for most of the match but still had to ride out a rocky period in the middle of the first-half where their defence again failed them. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Raheem Sterling
City’s win over Saints featured some decent displays, but only one player well and truly stood out in a positive manner amongst the blue pinstripe kits and that was Raheem Sterling. Sure David Silva and Sergio Aguero scored goals in City’s win, but Silva was okay and Aguero was wayward for most of the contest. And whilst Bernardo Silva was very bright first half he faded in the second.
Not often do we see @sterling7 play on the left, but he’s been absolutely outstanding. A constant menace to Saints.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) December 30, 2018
Sterling, on the other hand, was absolutely sensational from start to finish. Playing on the left of City’s front three, he tortured Southampton from start to finish with his direct running and skill. Whenever he got the ball his intent was to drive it forward and get the ball across the box for his team-mates, which he did repeatedly. In fact it was the intelligence of his play and skill of his game that saw him blitz by his marker and then force the own goal that gave City such a crucial lead. He was the hero on the south coast.
Loser: Oleksandr Zinchenko
It’s hard to be too critical of Oleksandr Zinchenko. After all he’s a 22-year-old attacking midfielder who is being drafted in to play left-back because of an injury crisis at the back. But on the other hand, Zinchenko has played there before and should know not to make such elementary mistakes.
The first of these came when he received the ball with his back to goal but his touch was heavy and took it away from his body. Sluggish to react, he was set upon by Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg who then ran away from him to blast Saints level.
Moments later he once again lost concentration when chasing back to catch James Ward-Prowse. He clumsily bundled into the back of the Saints winger, knocking him to the ground. A penalty wasn’t given, but on another day (especially with VAR) the decision could have gone against City and left them 2-1 down facing a raucous home crowd.
A lot has been made of goalkeepers this season, with Alisson being credited for everything from Liverpool’s newfound defensive solidity to the overwhelming quality of Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse. It’s clear the bearded Brazilian is brilliant, but let’s not forget that City’s Brazilian stopper is quite brilliant, too.
Ederson had a superb game against Southampton. Sure he didn’t keep a clean sheet but his goalkeeping was at a very high level from start to finish at St. Mary’s. First there was his staggeringly confident play with the ball at his feet, repeatedly negotiating the Saints high-press (one time in an absurdly nonchalant way that should have led to a goal). Then there was his saves, which repelled every Saints shot from those directed straight at him to those that required the kind of cat-like reflex saves for which his compatriot Alisson and rival David De Gea have become famous. It can’t be easy keeping goal for a team that takes so many risks, but Ederson makes it look easy.
Loser: Riyad Mahrez
It’s been a stop-start season for Riyad Mahrez since his massive move to Manchester City. At times his ability on the ball has been obvious and he saved the day, but then there have been times when he’s looked poor and even cost his side games. like when he missed a penalty in a crucial 0-0 draw against Liverpool, a miss which could be a significant as Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s in September 2003.
Today was sadly in the latter camp for Mahrez. His movement was fine enough, but his use of the ball was poor. This was most obviously highlighted in the two chances he missed. One in the second half to truly kill the game and another to make it 0-2 back in the first period that was so frustrating because it prevented City from scoring what should have been the goal of the season. Playing the ball out from the back Mahrez carried it forward superbly, but failed to find either Aguero or Sterling with simple passes, instead selfishly shooting wide.
Winner: Television Broadcasters
In addition to Manchester City (and Everton and Manchester United) fans, the people who would have most cheered City’s win against Southampton was television broadcasters, because this set things up so beautifully for them.
A loss or draw here and the title would have been over in all but mathematical certainty. But thanks to the victory, the Sky Blues now move to seven points behind Liverpool having played the same number of games. This sets up a knife-edge title showdown between the teams to kick-off the new year on January 3rd. Win, and City will be four points behind and Liverpool will really feel the heat; but should the Reds triumph, or pick up a draw, then the title will take one huge step on the way to Merseyside.
Obviously in a literal sense Southampton were the losers here, but in a more general sense this loss was a real bodyblow because they were superbly organised against the Premier League Champions. Had they executed their chances better they may have stolen the game in the first half.
In the end the match wasn’t even close, but City got two lucky breaks with the no-call on Zinchenko’s foul on Ward-Prowse. Then the massive deflection – also off Ward-Prowse – to cause an own goal and give City a lead when they looked at their most vulnerable. Ralph Hasenhuttl is doing good work, but this will be so frustrating.