A spirited and organised performance by Southampton made it five matches without a win for Pep Guardiola’s Man City.
The last three games have seen City earn just two-points with a loss at Tottenham followed by consecutive home draws against Everton and yesterday’s opponents.
Guardiola again opted for the expansive 3-4-2-1 formation. The reason for this has as much to do with the club’s array of attacking talent as the lack of top quality full-backs. It can’t be all bad if you’re able to field a starting 11 that includes Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan, David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and two of Nolito, Jesus Navas, Raheem Sterling or Leroy Sane – the latter pair getting the nod this time around.
But it does appear to have its issues, particularly on the counter-attack as Romelu Lukaku proved last week with a devastating ruthlessness that Gael Clichy will take some time to recover from.
The Saints, meanwhile, went with the 4-3-1-2 that manager Claude Puel has stuck with from the very start despite the understandable teething problems during the opening weeks of the season. A run of just one loss – away to Inter Milan – in their last nine games which have only seen three goals conceded suggests that the team are developing an understanding that will make them hard to break down.
The disciplined nature of Southampton’s setup ensures few opportunities are afforded to their opponents. The narrow three in midfield of Jordy Clasie, Oriol Romeu and Steven Davis makes it especially difficult for teams like Man City to penetrate through. As a result, City needed wide options and overlapping runs in the hope of creating two against one scenarios on the away side’s full-backs which included Sam McQueen making his first Premier League start.
But Guardiola’s formation and personnel meant there wasn’t the overlapping runs from deep starting positions. Instead, Sterling or Sane would often receive the ball just into the attacking third and look to dribble their way to the byline instead. Whilst both players possess the skills to succeed in one v one situations, their combined return of five from 11 attempted take-ons (four for Sterling and one for Sane) suggests an attacking wing-back might have been a better alternative.
For Southampton, the trio up top – Dusan Tadic, Nathan Redmond and Charlie Austin – were entrusted to relieve the pressure on their backline whilst increasing it on City’s. Although they weren’t able to create many chances, Austin managed to earn more fouls (five) than any other player and Redmond recovered eight balls, the joint-third most across both teams.
The wide areas on the counter-attack would have been the best route to goal for Southampton. When given the chance to organise themselves, Man City would revert to a back-four as Fernandinho dropped into the centre alongside Vincent Kompany with John Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov filling in as full-backs.
Romeu and van Dijk
These two players typified Southampton’s approach and have been vital to the club’s defensive solidity.
Romeu was deservedly awarded man of the match as the Spanish midfielder finished joint-fifth, along with Virgil van Dijk, for ball recoveries (six), second for interceptions (three) and first for tackles (eight from 15). The former Chelsea man also contributed to his side’s goal when he forced Fernandinho’s ball to Stones who subsequently sold his keeper, Claudio Bravo, short with a backpass that allowed Redmond to nip in and score.
Van Dijk put in a dominant performance at the back with the most blocks (three) and clearances (eight from nine). The Dutchman was also second for tackles with seven from eight attempts.
The only disappointment was substitute Kelechi Inheancho’s equaliser 10-minutes into the second half. Van Dijk was a little slow to covering the Nigerian forward’s run as he tried and failed to pass him on to his centre-back partner Jose Fonte.
That goal was just one of three attempts on target by City, the fewest achieved during Guardiola’s reign at the club.
The former Dortmund midfielder was one of the most influential players with top stats for both passes (80 from 84) and chances created (four). But the German’s numbers compared to Silva’s suggests the latter was crowded out by the narrow block which allowed more time to those, such as Gundogan, further back.
The previous two league games saw Silva lead in terms of chances created with seven at home to Everton and four away to Tottenham. For Man City to succeed, Guardiola will need to find a way for the likes of Silva and de Bruyne – brought off for Inheanacho at half-time – to have a greater impact in the final third than the deeper central midfielders when playing against a set-up like Southampton’s.
Puel is proving to be another shrewd appointment at Southampton and it will be interesting to see how Chelsea – who also play three at the back – fair at St. Mary’s next weekend. Based on recent form, it’s hard to see past another positive result for The Saints.
Whilst Man City conceded a goal via an individual error, the lack of overlapping runners meant the home side often played in front of Southampton’s defence. Unlike last week’s draw with Everton, this was a fair result. But it’s really not the time to panic, despite the fact there are similarities to this season’s start and last’s. A win in the League Cup derby at Man Utd on Wednesday, which has taken on greater significance following this weekend’s results, will more than make-up for recent disappointments.
EPL Results (Gameweek 9):
Bournemouth 0-0 Tottenham
Arsenal 0-0 Middlesbrough
Burnley 2-1 Everton
Hull 0-2 Stoke
Leicester 3-1 Crystal Palace
Swansea 0-0 Watford
West Ham 1-0 Sunderland
Liverpool 2-1 West Brom
Man City 1-1 Southampton
Chelsea 4-0 Man Utd