Misfiring City kept in contention thanks to impressive defensive duo

Manchester City’s free-scoring, record-breaking title winners have been replaced by a misfiring shadow of their former selves… but the boys at the back are providing a platform to keep Pep Guardiola’s side in title contention

  • Manchester City’s win at Southampton emphasised their goalscoring woes 
  • Two years ago, City completed their 100-point triumph at St Mary’s stadium 
  • However, Pep Guardiola’s men look like a shadow of that former lethal side 
  • Ruben Dias and John Stones have been in form and are a big positive for City

There was a time, not all that long ago, when a 1-0 Manchester City win at Southampton was sparking wild, late celebrations for Pep Guardiola and his team.

Gabriel Jesus’s injury-time winner earned the champions Centurions status, left Guardiola and his staff hugging each other in delight and City’s subs sprinting down the touchline to join the pile-on in front of the away fans.

Remember that City side? Free-scoring, multiple record-breaking and runaway title winners who regularly had their opponents beaten before games had even kicked off.

Manchester City’s win at Southampton underlined their goalscoring woes this season

City have looked a shadow of the free-scoring side that romped to 100 points in 2017-18

The victory they earned to complete their 2017/18 campaign brought a fitting reward for their sensational season and an equally impressive, swashbuckling team.

How times have changed, in many ways.

On Saturday, it was simple but vital defending, such as Ruben Dias booting the ball into the stands, or surviving when Southampton put them under the cosh that was being celebrated at St Mary’s by John Stones and co in the closing stages.

And it might be like that for the foreseeable. Free-flowing City of old have, for the time being at least, been replaced by a badly misfiring one.

However, City’s defence have set a solid platform which keeps them in contention for the title

Good job then that the boys at the back are doing their bit and can be relied on to provide the platform to keep City in contention. This shutout was their seventh in eight games.

Stones has played in five of them, missed the one game they did concede in and excelled against Southampton alongside ‘exceptional’ summer signing Dias who has featured in seven of the eight games.

A first-choice partnership has emerged. ‘You have to build something from them,’ said Guardiola.

Joao Cancelo, capable in either full-back position, has featured heavily too and Kyle Walker remains key.

‘The whole back four were brilliant. It’s incredible,’ Guardiola said. ‘That’s the way we can still be there. Knocking on the door of the teams above us. Work hard, be solid, this stable and waiting for the people upfront to unblock and one day maybe we’ll be fresh to score goals.’

John Stones (R) and Ruben Dias (L) have emerged as a fantastic partnership in City’s back four

Sergio Aguero’s injury and illness issues have been compounded by Jesus – still the Argentine’s long-term successor Guardiola insists despite the growing doubts – hitting a dry spell.

Aguero was an unused sub at Southampton, Jesus injured and winger Ferran Torres pressed into stand-in-striker duties again.

A new frontman will not be riding to City’s rescue in January according to Guardiola.

‘No I don’t think so, economic financial situation is what it is,’ he said. ‘All clubs struggle and we’re no exception.’

So Guardiola is preparing to sit and wait until this goal-shy phase passes knowing it could be potentially fatal to City’s hopes of snatching their title back off Liverpool the longer it lasts.

Pep Guardiola knows he needs to build on that partnership and will hope his side can fire again

At half-time, one of Southampton’s major concerns was stopping the supply line into Kevin De Bruyne who kept finding little pockets of space between their midfield and defence.

They could not but needn’t have worried.

Riyad Mahrez – recipient of one of those animated, in-your-face Guardiola pep talks before he came on and presumably not told to blaze a sitter over – and Bernardo Silva missed simple chances the Belgian helped create. They were far from the only culprits.

A couple of hours after clinical Liverpool put seven past Crystal Palace, City had just Raheem Sterling’s first-half effort to show for all De Bruyne’s work leading to a tortuous finale and muted, relieved full-time celebrations for Guardiola this time.

He added: ‘When we created chances we couldn’t score. When that happens always you’re going to suffer. That’s why I’m not able to say how our season will be.’

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