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Five Things We Learned: Southampton 1-1 Manchester City (Premier League)

Pep Guardiola's side had to settle for a point as they ended a 12-game winning streak in the Premier League against a well-drilled Southampton side on Saturday evening.

The Premier League champions were halted at last after a series of narrow wins since the turn of the year, with Southampton avoiding defeat at the hands of the Sky Blues for the second time this season.

A terrific opener by Kyle Walker-Peters was cancelled out by an Aymeric Laporte equaliser in the second-half, but Pep Guardiola’s men could not get over the line against the spirited Saints.

While Manchester City were the better side on the balance of play, credit needs to be afforded to Ralph Hasenhüttl's men for what was a titanic defensive display.

Despite the draw, the visitors on the night, who dropped points in the Premier League for the first time in just under three months on Saturday, sit 12 points clear at the top of the table.

Here are the five things we learned from a testing night for Manchester City in the south coast:


Unpopular opinion: This result isn’t the end of the world

Unlike their peers, Manchester City have been almost flawless this season, having gone on an incredible 12-game winning streak that had them sitting firmly at the top of the Premier League table ahead of the trip to Hampshire.

For once, Pep Guardiola’s side reminded us that they indeed are human and considering their 11-point lead over second-placed Liverpool prior to the draw at St. Mary's, the result is the opposite of a crisis.

And for those who believe that a sloppy performance has been an anomaly for the Sky Blues this season, the displays against the likes of Brentford and Arsenal - both narrow victories for the reigning top-flight champions, must’ve slipped their minds.

If anything, the Premier League champions were far from perfect in said two games, with the only difference being that they had three points apiece to show for those outings.

Let’s put it down to the classic ‘It was just one of those days’ footballing cliché and not lose sleep over the two points dropped as the gap at the top of the Premier League continues to read as 12 points ahead of Liverpool's meeting with Crystal Palace on Sunday.


VAR needed VAR

The decision not to hand Stuart Armstrong a red card for his challenge on Aymeric Laporte was laughable to say the least.

The argument about the extent of the force is a silly one, considering the fact that Armstrong’s studs were showing, the lateness of the challenge and just how blatantly reckless it was.

How VAR can look at countless replays of that monstrosity and decide not to hand a red card is comedy gold, because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Add to that the initial challenge on Jack Grealish in the first-half and it’s the same old story again.

While the potential penalty call on Kevin De Bruyne can be regarded as inconclusive, the fact that VAR ultimately decided that the challenge was just a foul outside the box calls their decision-making into question once again.

After all, the contact occurred on the line, which counts as a part of the box and going by the fact that VAR considered the challenge as a foul, it’s a penalty and that is literally all that there is to it.

However, at this point, it just feels like groundhog day when discussing the shambolic standards of officiating in English football.


Kevin De Bruyne can leave the pitch with his head held high

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This was the closest thing to Kevin De Bruyne returning back to his usual self this season. Yes, the scorchers against the likes of Leeds United and Chelsea have acted as reminders that the Belgian is truly a once-in-a-generation footballer.

But unlike his previous displays, this was De Bruyne at his sharpest, taking his usual risks whilst also being razor-sharp in his execution.

The 30-year-old broke the lines in sublime fashion and was finding passes that never seemed on, without a tinge of sloppiness creeping into his game.

Ultimately, it was the playmaker's immaculate ball that set up Aymeric Laporte’s equalizer and on a day where there were more problems and less solutions for his side, De Bruyne looked as close as a who had the answers.

The PFA Player's Player of the Year also deserves his flowers for constantly winning the back ball in impressive fashion, notably in the dying embers of the contest where he harried the Saints defence and launched an effort at Fraser Forster and won win his side a corner as a result.

A rare positive on an off night for the visitors.


A reminder of just how crucial Ilkay Gundogan is

Ilkay Gundogan has not started in Manchester City’s last four Premier League games and in all honesty, there’s been no evidence on the pitch to suggest the Germany international has needed to be dropped.

Ironically enough, the contest with Southampton was tailor-made for City's number eight. Pep Guardiola’s side were uncharacteristically sloppy in possession and the presence of a controller such as Gundogan, who can play the simple passes and keep things ticking was sorely missed.

The league leaders were frustratingly conceding turnovers and Gundogan’s ability to dictate the tempo of what was a frantic encounter would have helped counter Southampton’s transition-heavy approach.

From a defensive perspective, the gap behind Rodri as the lone six was enormous and the 31-year-old's understanding of when to sit deep and when to foray forward would have made the visitors’ shape a lot more compact, especially in the middle of the park.

In addition to this, Gundogan is only second to Raheem Sterling in terms of having a knack for finding runs in behind and with the acres of space afforded down the flanks, his understanding of when to create wide overloads would have helped dismantle Southampton’s low block.

If you’re reading this, it’s not too late to start Ilkay Gundogan again, Mr. Guardiola.


City are a set-piece threat this season

Considering Manchester City boast one of the shortest squads in the division, set-pieces have possibly been the least likely source for goals for the Premier League champions during Pep Guardiola’s tenure.

Corners and long-range freekicks have seemed like eventual goal kicks for the Sky Blues due to a lack of aerial threat inside the box over the years. However, it is interesting to see a host of goals coming as a result of set-pieces this season.

Aymeric Laporte’s header against Southampton, the centre-half's goal against Leicester City, Jack Grealish’s close-range strike against Leeds United and Nathan Ake’s emphatic opener against RB Leipzig in the Champions League group-stage instantly spring to mind as some examples.

It’s a pity that Kevin De Bruyne’s sumptuous deliveries have not added significantly to his assist tally as much as they should during the former Chelsea man's time at the Etihad Stadium so far, but his pinpoint cross into the box was met perfectly by Laporte on Saturday.

Something interesting to ponder over, instead of punching the air for no reason after a rare poor day at the office.


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