Claude Puel’s Southampton faced a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City yesterday, but whilst the encounter was frustrating, there is certainly no need to be worried.
First and foremost some credit to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who quite simply, were exceptional. Whenever you leave a game following a defeat such as yesterday’s, it’s only natural to feel like you need something to blame. Of course, there were a number of factors that lead to our defeat, but sometimes, we just need to face the facts and realise that the opposition really were a class above us.
Any football fan can see the quality that Manchester City boast within their squad, and when a manager such as Guardiola is able to make those components tick, few teams are able to stop them. Right from the off, Manchester City’s midfield were free-flowing and effectively dominating possession, constantly on the hunt for dangerous pockets of space within our midfield.
Leroy Sane, in particular, was immense on the left wing, providing composure when working from deep and controlled flair when driving at the defence. Cedric Soares would be considered a rather pacey full back by many, but on numerous occasions, the sheer speed of the German International was just too much for Cedric to handle. On top of this, Sergio Aguero’s movement was typically flawless, whilst Kevin De Bruyne’s vision and final ball were just too much to counter.
Southampton’s game plan was clear from the start; they would sit deep, soak up the pressure, and look to break with speed through Redmond or either full back. And in all honesty, this makes sense. Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida have picked up form in recent fixtures, but to have played a high line against Sane and Aguero would have been defensive suicide.
For arguably the first 80 minutes, Southampton’s defence genuinely held a rather strong defensive line, and given City’s quality and pace in attack, allowed very few runners in behind. We sat deep effectively and certainly soaked the pressure too, however, our issue’s came with breaking. On the rare occasion that we would eventually win the ball back in a dangerous zone, our passes failed to truly penetrate City’s defensive lines, with Vicent Kompany and co alive to almost every loose ball.
Southampton failed to consistently break away, and much of this was greatly down to Guardiola’s demands of his City side, who are expected to recover the ball at lightning speed – a plan that was executed superbly yesterday by both the midfield and defence. It’s worth noting however that the absence of Oriol Romeu, Southampton’s main destructive midfielder, would have certainly gifted City more attacking joy, whilst also reducing the number of promising ball recoveries for Southampton. On multiple occasions this season the Spaniard has shown his tendency to initiate counter attacks with a smart interception or crunching tackle, and that’s exactly what we needed.
As the game came to a close, I started seeing more and more fans suggesting that we should have stepped higher up the field and pushed City further back to their box. But in all honesty, I couldn’t disagree more.
Firstly because Romeu’s absence would leave a gaping hole between the midfield and defence, and secondly because for City, this would have been a case of anything you can do, we can do better. By forcefully aiming to go on the front foot, Southampton would most certainly leave gaps in behind themselves, and whilst this may create a number of chances, players such as Silva and De Bruyne would no doubt occupy these gaps – something that no defender ever wants to handle. Without Romeu, such an approach to the game would be mindless gambling.
This was illustrated in the later stages of the game when James Ward-Prowse was replaced by Shane Long in the 60th minute, and consequently, Southampton naturally took up a more offensive approach to the game. We went from having a strong and structured team shape in the first 60 minutes, to creating pockets of space for City to exploit and charge at.
Whilst Ward-Prowse provided little attacking threat, he put in a mature performance that allowed Southampton’s midfield to hold their shape, which when playing a team of City’s calibre, is a very important quality to boast. Even more recently against AFC Bournemouth, the very same thing happened after Ward-Prowse was once again substituted. There’s a lesson to be learnt here – either Puel substitutes another attacking player, or Ward-Prowse is replaced by someone who can carry out a similar role.
Yesterday was an extremely frustrating game, and just like any other fan, I always want to see us win. All in all, however, I would say that yesterday was more of a reflection of Manchester City’s talent, rather than Southampton’s shortcoming’s.
We’ve dealt with far bigger blows since our return to the Premier League, and I’m certain that this won’t harm us during our final run-in to the season.