Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling has been directly involved in five goals in his past five Premier League games against Southampton

Manchester City returned to winning ways in the Premier League and closed the gap to the top four with a hard-fought victory over in-form Southampton at St Mary’s.

Raheem Sterling swept in from Kevin de Bruyne’s cutback after 16 minutes as Pep Guardiola’s side stamped their authority following the hosts’ energetic start.

Southampton, who began the day third in the table, responded well but their efforts to draw level were hampered by the loss of striker Danny Ings through injury before half-time.

In a tightly contested second half, Bernardo Silva miscued his shot after being played in by De Bruyne, while the hosts had appeals for a penalty for handball against Sterling dismissed by VAR.

Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy kept his side’s hopes of salvaging a result alive with a good save from Ilkay Gundogan’s curled shot, but Sterling’s finish proved decisive for a City side which had drawn their past two games.

City are one point behind fourth-placed Southampton and eight adrift of leaders Liverpool, having played one game fewer than both.

Same old problems – but City find a way

Following champions Liverpool’s emphatic 7-0 win at Crystal Palace – a result which temporarily left City 11 points behind their recent title adversary – Guardiola’s misfiring side could ill afford a repeat of their recent shortcomings.

Registering 25 shots in a frustrating 1-1 draw with West Brom on Tuesday, the scoring issues that have contributed to their Spanish manager’s worst ever start to a top-flight campaign appear unlikely to subside any time soon.

Facing a confident Saints side that weathered 26 shots in beating City 1-0 in July, Sterling’s controlled right-footed opener forced the hosts to ask the questions – and a defence led by £65m signing Ruben Dias effectively endured Saints’ relentless press.

But in the absence of unfit striker Gabriel Jesus, and with the injury-plagued Sergio Aguero again on the bench, summer signing Ferran Torres managed just one shot as City struggled to create openings.

Silva, making his fifth league start of the season, produced several mazy runs but was unable to finish from another quality De Bruyne pass and the problem for City remains clear, with their 19 goals this campaign paling in comparison to the 37 they managed after 13 games last term.

Victory was undoubtedly the most important thing for City after their midweek setback though, and this was a crucial one following Liverpool’s earlier statement of intent.

Ings blow as Saints fall short

This was an opportunity for Southampton to genuinely establish themselves as a top-four contender this season following an impressive start. Though beaten on Saturday, Hasenhuttl’s well-drilled side will still feel they can threaten the established order.

Saints played with the energy and confidence expected of a team which had lost just once in 11 Premier League games, and were once again unrecognisable from the side which endured a torrid start to the previous campaign.

City’s opener only served to increase Southampton’s early intensity in front of a limited number of home fans, but Ederson was equal to both Theo Walcott’s shot and Jannik Vestergaard’s header.

The loss of Ings – whose wait for a 50th Premier League goal continues – before half-time was a huge blow, after the 28-year-old had led his side’s admirable high press from the front.

The striker was convinced he should have been awarded a penalty following a high challenge by Ruben Dias, while VAR also decided against awarding a spot-kick when the ball hit Sterling on the arm in the second half, but Southampton were ultimately unable to break City down.

Ings’ injury and a 10th booking for the now-suspended Oriol Romeu were two notable disappointments in defeat for Hasenhuttl, who should otherwise take pride in another promising showing.

City’s impressive defensive record – the stats

  • No side has conceded fewer goals (12) or kept more clean sheets (6) in the Premier League this season than Manchester City.
  • City manager Guardiola has won six of his seven meetings with Hasenhuttl in all competitions.
  • Southampton failed to score in a Premier League game for the first time since their season opener in September.
  • Saints have only kept one clean sheet in their past 18 games against Manchester City in the Premier League, conceding 40 goals in those games.
  • Sterling has been directly involved in 11 goals in 16 Premier League games against Southampton – only against West Ham (14) has he had a hand in more.
  • Kevin de Bruyne has registered 15 Premier League assists in 2020. That’s three more than anyone else and only in 2017 has he assisted more (18).
  • Since the start of last season, only Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (45) has been directly involved in more Premier League goals than De Bruyne (42).

What’s next?

Manchester City are away to Arsenal in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday (20:00 GMT), before hosting Newcastle on Saturday night in the Premier League(20:00).

Southampton travel to Fulham on Saturday (15:00).

Player of the match

VestergaardJannik Vestergaard

Line-ups

Southampton

  • 1McCarthy
  • 2Walker-Peters
  • 35Bednarek
  • 4Vestergaard
  • 3Bertrand
  • 32Walcott
  • 8Ward-ProwseBooked at 42mins
  • 6RomeuBooked at 38mins
  • 12DjenepoSubstituted forRedmondat 59′minutes
  • 9IngsSubstituted forTellaat 41′minutes
  • 10AdamsSubstituted forN’Lunduluat 82′minutes

Substitutes

  • 5Stephens
  • 7Long
  • 11Redmond
  • 17Armstrong
  • 22Salisu
  • 23Tella
  • 27Diallo
  • 40N’Lundulu
  • 44Forster

Man City

  • 31EdersonBooked at 81mins
  • 2Walker
  • 5Stones
  • 3Rúben Dias
  • 27Cancelo
  • 8Gündogan
  • 16Rodri
  • 20Bernardo Silva
  • 17De BruyneBooked at 25mins
  • 7Sterling
  • 21TorresSubstituted forMahrezat 72′minutes

Substitutes

  • 6Aké
  • 10Agüero
  • 11Zinchenko
  • 22Mendy
  • 25Fernandinho
  • 26Mahrez
  • 33Carson
  • 47Foden
  • 61Nmecha

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