Manchester City 2-1 Southampton: 5 Talking Points & Tactical Analysis
Second-half strikes from Sergio Aguero and Kyle Walker's late winner proved enough for Manchester City to snatch a nervy Premier League win against a determined Southampton display at the Ethiad, just eight days after the Saints' record-breaking 9-0 defeat by Leicester.
City dominated the early exchanges but found themselves a goal behind early on, as Stuart Armstrong's powerful low drive forced an error from Ederson. He fumbled the strike but was unable to comfortably smother it, as James Ward-Prowse timing his run perfectly to capitalise from close-range with the rebound.
The hosts responded with increasing waves of attacking pressure, creating goalscoring chances aplenty - though Southampton were prepared for the onslaught and defended valiantly to protect goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, making his first league start for eight months.
John Stones watched his headed effort flash over the bar while Aguero, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Kevin de Bruyne all came close with respective efforts. As time ticked on though, tensions continued to rise - especially as City have trailed at half-time on three occasions over the past two seasons, losing all three games. Today proved different.
Kyle Walker fizzed a low ball across the box for Aguero, who made no mistake and fired through McCarthy's legs to level the scoring. His ninth league goal this term and their breakthrough after a whopping 19 attempts on-goal, it spurred them on in search of a late winner.
They eventually earned that, as Angelino's inviting cross was poorly dealt with in the Saints box. The ball fell to an off-balance Walker, quickly improvising as he struck goalwards with a half-volley that McCarthy - caught in no man's land - couldn't save. Without further ado, here's a look at five talking points from a frenetic afternoon's action in Manchester during a game that could've gone either way:
#5 Sterling-Valery battle reiterates importance of City's missing link
This was a frustrating game for City, but especially one Raheem Sterling had to endure. Operating down the left against Yan Valery, the pair were regularly engaged in competitive duels for possession and Sterling didn't always get the better of the determined teenager.
Southampton's early opener saw Angelino venture forward and remain there as more of an auxiliary left-sided winger, adding another option with further width to City's attack. That shift should have prompted Sterling to roam further into dangerous pockets of space near central areas, but it wasn't something he could do confidently given Southampton's defensive shape and how they looked to continually frustrate their hosts off-the-ball.
Pep barked orders at the Englishman to get himself more involved, often cutting an isolated figure on the far side. Despite a few promising moments, there was more emphasis on battles between himself and Valery in the game's first hour.
Despite impressive form of late, Sterling wasn't enjoying his best display on this occasion but again persisted in attempts to create chances as time wore on and legs got heavy. He showed he's capable of doing so with those trademark slaloming runs around the area, though decision-making in crucial moments left a lot to be desired: something we've grown accustomed to not say about his game recently.
Late on, Sterling should've teed up Gabriel Jesus on the counter-attack but was stuck in two minds on whether to go solo or bait the defender into a tackle - did neither and got dispossessed. That move rather typified his afternoon and given his ever-growing importance to their attack, is a key reason why it took City so long to get truly settled.