Pep Guardiola elicited the reaction he demanded from Manchester City fans, but not from his players who looked as tired as their manager had suggested they could be against Southampton following Wednesday’s victory over RB Leipzig.
That’s when Guardiola asked for more votes this afternoon. It started a comedic fight from what he said, he said with Kevin Parker, the secretary of the official supporters’ club, who later and politely informed the garlanded Catalan to stick with training.
An Etihad stadium that seemed close to songs sung on Guardiola but which saw footballers like Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gündogan, Fernandinho, Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling work. The actual shots – on target or off – were collectibles among those in sky blue and, via bursts from Nathan Redmond and Adam Armstrong, Southampton was impatient when he was allowed to back-push at City.
On time, disaster seemed to strike when Walker relinquished possession and suddenly had to rush to correct the mistake, only to bring down Armstrong. Jonathan Moss gave a penalty and showed Walker a red card. The VAR ordered him to watch and the referee ruled that the right-back had crashed into the forward as the latter wrapped a leg around the ball, so the decisions were overturned. If Moss found this to be a clear and obvious mistake, the official may wish to consult a dictionary to familiarize himself with the definitions of the terms.
Guardiola had seen enough: just after that, Fernandinho was replaced by Kevin De Bruyne as the manager tried to revive his squad. Moments later, a second change saw Riyad Mahrez introduced for the awkward Jesus.
It was a game City won 5-0 last season, but they would have liked a one-goal win now. Since Mahrez entered, they had 23 minutes to design it. For a Guardiola team, there was minimal imagination, precise passing, opponent maneuvering and threat. None of these occurred in a 15-minute run before the break.
When Guardiola cast Phil Foden for Bernardo Silva, there was a touch of desperation in the act. City were watching two points lost to accompany the loss at Tottenham Hotspur last month. There were taunts when João Cancelo hit an effort that ended the conversion to rugby. Moss then suffered his own whistles when Sterling fell to the grass in the area and the referee dismissed City’s calls for a kick.
At the end of the goalless draw, only the second time in 40 home appearances, City failed to score, felt a fair result. City ended up squeezing the visitors but the cold execution failed. They eventually managed to get the ball home via Sterling, only to have his effort declared offside.
On this evidence – a small sample, it must be admitted – Guardiola has work to do on the training ground. City were on the muffler and, despite the 6-3 midweek victory, their pace seems rambling.