Southampton faced heartbreak at the death on Wednesday after Raheem Sterling’s 96th-minute strike extended Manchester City’s unbeaten run in the Premier League to 14 fixtures.
As a Southampton fan it was gut-wrenching: 90+ minutes of sheer hard work, determination and organisation, only to be defeated by a moment of simply undeniable class.
But after taking a step back from the drama of it all, I could see that it was a thrilling battle between two sides with two entirely different approaches. Southampton could walk off that pitch with their heads held high, despite City leaving as the deserved winners.
But following the post-match press conferences, the game had suddenly been given a whole new narrative, as Pep Guardiola proceeded to blast Southampton for their negative tactics and time-wasting.
“They didn’t want to play. We were the only team who tried to win. We deserved it by far,” said Guardiola.
The Spaniard then went on to slander Southampton for having “10 men behind the ball” and asserting that “their striker was man-marking Fernandinho”.
Now at this point I must confess that I myself am a huge admirer of Guardiola, and certainly not an advocate of time-wasting.
But these comments regarding Southampton’s tactics are quite frankly ridiculous.
Guardiola might say that defending deep with the aim of rarely breaking forward is unfair, and that’s reasonable. But I can guarantee you that if we asked Guardiola whether it’s unfair to recruit world-class talents like a hacked Football Manager save, and spend over £200M on building a new backline, he’d shoot your question down before you could even finish your sentence.
The point I’m trying to make is that while both are frustrating and unfair to others, they are perfectly legal in the game, and that’s all part of football.
Mauricio Pellegrino didn’t come off the field lambasting the ludicrous amount of money that Guardiola’s spent, so why did Guardiola leave the field moaning about the way Southampton tried to combat his side?
Contrary to what Guardiola may believe, there’s no one way to play football, so please don’t kick up a fuss that we gave you a challenge.
It’s worth noting at this point that the teams who caused City the most frustration this season – Wolves, Huddersfield and now the Saints – all conceded possession and deployed a deep block.
The post-match comments would lead anyone to believe that Southampton posed no threat in the opposition’s box, but this was far from the truth; Oriol Romeu’s goal was worked wonderfully, Wesley Hoedt cannoned a header off the crossbar and Maya Yoshida missed an open goal.
However, I’m under no illusion that Southampton played a defensive style of football throughout the entire 90 minutes, only looking to attack on calculated and measured occasions.
But is it really any wonder when we had to be wary of Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling charging at our defence, let alone a fresh-legged David Silva, who’d just been subbed on.
Of course Guardiola would love everyone to push forward and go toe-to-toe with City – he’d simply watch on with joy as his team proceeds to wipe the floor with their sorry opponent, before praising them in the post-match presser for giving it a “good go”.
Anyone knows that gifting space to any of City’s world-class forwards is the difference between having a chance of picking up a result at the Etihad, and being completely and utterly humiliated.
Manchester City are an outstanding football team, and any mid-table side naive enough to think that they can beat them at their own game will simply be picked off at will.
The tone of this piece was exactly the route that I didn’t want to go down following such an entertaining game; Manchester City were an absolute joy to watch, and as far as I’m concerned, each one of those Southampton players can go into their next fixture with their head held high.
Only last week Guardiola stated that there is no copy and paste in football with regards to tactics, due to every squad boasting different strengths and weaknesses. So in the same way that Guardiola deployed an incredibly attacking side to secure all three points, Southampton fielded a strong and resilient defensive unit to frustrate and battle.
There’s no right or wrong in how a team wishes to pick up their points, especially when it’s against the most expensive side in Premier League history.