How Manchester City have desperately missed Vincent Kompany this season, for his defending, his leadership and organisation, things that no-one else at the club can provide in the same way. Here at St Mary’s they got all that from him and more, as he scored the headed goal that turned a drab 0-0 draw into an emphatic 3-0 win.
This game was going nowhere until Kompany broke it open. It was sterile domination and City looked like they were heading for what would have been a damaging draw. But Kompany’s goal was followed by two more, from Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero, as City pulled away to what became a very easy win.
It was not a classic match but at this stage of the season only the results count. These three points propel City back above Liverpool into third place. The top two are racing away from them but all City can do is keep winning and stay ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United, in their pursuit of Champions League football for next season.
Arsenal and United are City’s next two games, in the FA Cup and Premier League, the biggest week of their season. City did look for the first 55 minutes here as if they had half an eye on those two games and struggled to conjure up the intensity that Pep Guardiola demands from them.
That is why they needed a set-piece to take the lead, just when it started to feel as if they would struggle to break through in open play.
The goal came from when Jesus Navas’s 30-yarder forced Fraser Forster to tip the ball over the crossbar. David Silva drifted in the corner kick from the left. Kompany clambered up above Maya Yoshida at the near post and darted his header down and into the far corner of the goal. Forster could not scramble across in time.
It was Kompany’s first goal since August 2015 and he celebrated with the wild glee of a man who had spent a long time wondering if he could ever get to do this again. It has been a nightmare season for Kompany, this was only his eighth start in all competitions, and yet he now has the chance to make a difference to the crucial finale.
Once City were ahead they played with more freedom and more speed, although that does not say much. Kompany could have scored a second from a corner, Silva had a shot blocked and Aguero failed to race away from Jack Stephens despite getting in front of him.
But Saints were coming forward and eventually City found the space to score their second and kill the game. Silva beautifully played in De Bruyne, running in behind, with far more room than he could have expected. He waited until the perfect moment and squared to Leroy Sane, running alongside him, who finished into an empty net for his ninth goal of a brilliant season.
That was game over and with the pressure off City scored a clever third. Navas played the ball to De Bruyne at the byline, he pulled back a back and Aguero jumped at the far post to head it in. Aguero had not been at his best, but neither had City, and yet they still turned it round at the end. It was a dominant second half performance that felt very unlikely during a drab first half.
Back before Kompany’s goal, City solidly dominated possession, as they were always going to do, but there was very little drive or spark to go with it. With Raheem Sterling rested City struggled to beat opponents. Navas, again at right-back, found crossing positions often enough, but none of those crosses went anywhere.
It took until the final minutes of the first half for City to look like scoring but even then they could not find the precision they needed. David Silva should have done better at the far post from Sergio Aguero’s deflected cross. Sane was brought down by Fraser Forster, who got just enough of the ball to concede a corner, rather than a penalty. It was poor stuff, and City needed to do far more after the break. Fortunately for Guardiola, they did.
Southampton, in truth, struggled to make much of an impression on the game. Most of this match was attack versus defence but Saints never quite had the incision or speed to hurt City on the break. They had one good chance early in the first half, when Dusan Tadic shot over from Manolo Gabbiadini’s cross. It took until the 72nd minute for Saints to go close again, with Cedric Soares met Tadic’s cross, only for Claudio Bravo to match it with a rare save. Shane Long came on but he was taken off just 20 minutes after, but by that point the game was gone.
Southampton: Forster, Soares, Stephens, Toshida, Bertrand, David, Hojbjerg, Ward-Prowse (Long 60, Rodriguez 82), Tadic, Redmond, Gabbiadini (Boufal 60).
Subs not used: Hassen, Clasie, Caceres, Martina.
Manchester City: Bravo, Navas, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, De Bruyne, Silva (Zabaleta 81), Sane (Sterling 86), Aguero (Iheanacho 89).
Subs not used: Caballero, Fernando, Kolarov, Garcia.
Referee: N Swarbrick