Pep Guardiola made a call for Manchester City fans to pack the Etihad Stadium for Saturday’s Premier League fixture against Southampton. This riled some fans who felt slighted by their own manager’s veiled criticism of their support. Those who did respond to Guardiola’s plea were surely left disappointed by what was served up by the champions.
There was no sign of the verve that saw City score six past RB Leipzig in the Champions League during the week. “I would say the last three games we played here we scored 16 goals,” Guardiola said on Wednesday night, but the Premier League’s great entertainers were not in an entertaining mood as they laboured to a goalless draw.
City should have had more than enough to get past Southampton, even accounting for their mid-week exertions. Guardiola boasts the strongest, deepest squad in the Premier League, maybe even in all of European football, yet the visitors to the Etihad Stadium rarely looked flustered as they held out for a point.
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Southampton might have claimed even more had the award of a penalty kick, and a subsequent red card for Kyle Walker, not been overturned. This was a match that showcased Manchester City at their passive worst with Guardiola unable to change things from the bench.
“We struggled with build-up, not precise, not good,” Guardiola attempted to explain afterwards.
We lost more balls than usual. We had the feeling we weren't comfortable taking the ball. We couldn’t make contact with people up front, but we had chances and at the end, a draw is a fair result.
Guardiola also can’t ignore his team’s lack of cutting edge and threat in the centre forward position. Despite claiming 64% of possession, City registered just one shot on target, their lowest tally in a Premier League fixture since March 2017. What’s more, that one shot on target came in the 90th minute.
Southampton were ambitious enough to play their own game at times, but their defensive organisation was still the thing that ultimately earned them a point. Faced with a low defensive block, Manchester City toiled. Most of their attacks started 30 yards out from goal, which was a problem for a team with nobody in the number nine position to play off or get on the end of crosses.
Of course, much has been made of City’s failure to find a new centre forward following the exit of Sergio Aguero. Their public pursuit of Harry Kane dominated the gossip column for weeks with Cristiano Ronaldo another attacking target the Premier League champions ultimately failed to land.
Until now, City’s lack of a proven number nine had done little to hold them back. As Guardiola mentioned in his sales pitch to get more fans through the gates, they had scored 16 goals in their last three home games. But this performance underlined why this deficiency could cost them in the title race.
Contrast the outcome of this match to the one that saw Chelsea claim a 1-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg in the Champions League. This result is relevant because it was decided by a Romelu Lukaku goal. While City failed to sign a world class centre forward, Chelsea got one and Lukaku has already made a habit of scoring winners in matches his team likely would have drawn without him.
Guardiola’s bizarre decision to leave Ferran Torres on the bench for the full 90 minutes against Southampton exacerbated Manchester City’s lack of attacking threat even further, but there’s only so much he can do with the current centre forward options at his disposal. If Guardiola’s comments about a lack of support generated a sense of malaise around the Etihad Stadium, City’s lack of firepower compounded it further.
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