Ihenacho rescues Manchester City

Kelechi Iheanacho

Kelechi Iheanacho has come off the bench to rescue Manchester City from an embarrassing home defeat by a resolute Southampton.

It was his third premier league goal this season.

Iheanacho, who was not listed for a Champions League loss at Barcelona, came off the bench in the 46th minute and drew city level nine minutes later, when he stabbed home a cross by Leroy Sane.

Claude Puel has established a high-pressing attack and well-organised defensive unit. They thwarted City’s attempts at a comeback and the result means Guardiola has not won a league game in three for the first time since the end of the 2014-15 season at Bayern Munich. It is the first time he has gone without a win in five overall since 2009.

“We had problems creating in the buildup; it was slow,” said Guardiola. “We had problems to make the difference, one against one and two v one. In the second half the players changed their mentality, the way to rebel against the situation. Unfortunately we could not win. Again we conceded a goal when the opponent didn’t make anything. It’s difficult to recover the mentality from that.

“It happened in Glasgow [against Celtic]. What the opponents do, they don’t create too much and it’s not too easy when you give them [chances]. But I don’t think today that’s the reason why we didn’t win. The difference between the first half and second half was obvious.”

It is a strange conundrum that City remain top of the Premier League yet Guardiola arguably faces his biggest managerial challenge for many years. There was evident tension emanating from the stands throughout a challenging afternoon and even a smattering of boos at the half-time whistle.

Vincent Kompany and Sergio Agüero returned to the starting line-up after the 4-0 defeat in Barcelona, with Guardiola selecting a three-man defence including the Belgian, Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov. That defence was put under intense pressure by Southampton’s forward triumvirate of Redmond, Charlie Austin and Dusan Tadic and City were unable to register a single first-half shot on target for the first time in 15 matches under Guardiola.

Credit must go to Puel and Southampton, who never permitted Claudio Bravo an easy option when the Chilean goalkeeper was looking to distribute quickly. The Saints were similarly focused in defence, José Fonte and Virgil van Dijk demonstrating why they had conceded only seven Premier League goals before this match.

Goalmouth action was limited during an opening half played with little space. Jordy Clasie blazed over Bravo’s crossbar after a slick Southampton move on 20 minutes and soon after Kevin De Bruyne almost slid Agüero through one-on-one.

However, the turning point came through Stones’s error, a major lapse in concentration from the defender in the 28th minute. The former Everton centre-half played a blind pass back to Kompany, misdirecting it severely and laying the ball on a plate for Redmond, who rounded Bravo to finish coolly.

Perhaps such faux pas should be expected as City adapt to Guardiola’s approach of consistently playing out from the back. Stones thought he had made immediate amends when finishing well from De Bruyne’s deep free-kick, only for the linesman to signal offside against Agüero.

The atmosphere was subdued to say the least and City’s first valid shot came only in the 38th minute, although Ilkay Gündogan dragged tamely wide. Iheanacho replaced De Bruyne at half-time and City upped their intensity.

It was Iheanacho who brought them level in the 55th minute with a well-worked goal. Fernandinho sprayed a fine ball over the top for Leroy Sané, who pulled back across the penalty area for the Nigerian youngster to finish first time into the bottom corner.

City’s increased pressure coincided with a succession of yellow cards, as tempers rose. Iheanacho certainly added a new dynamic and almost squared for David Silva as blue shirts began to swarm forward in numbers.

Gündogan and Silva forced excellent saves from Fraser Forster before Austin had a fine opportunity after being fed by the substitute Sofiane Boufal, only to fire straight at Bravo. Jesús Navas was brought on to replace Kompany late on but City could not craft clear opportunities despite late pressure.

It was a rather tepid ending to City’s afternoon but one Southampton celebrated. Puel said: “I’m happy of course for the point, the spirit and fantastic mentality. It was a difficult game against a good team. They [City] can press well and make it difficult to play our game. I think in the second half we had good defensive organisation.

City are back on top of the table, but only just as they are only ahead of arsenal and Liverpool on goals difference as all three teams are now on 20 points after eight matches.

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