Manchester City strolled to a 4-0 Premier League victory at home to Southampton, climbing to the table of the table on Saturday afternoon.
Pep Guardiola’s side showed no signs of sluggishness after their Champions League exertions in midweek. Within the opening minute, Joao Cancelo had skipped down the left flank, putting a ball into the box which Riyad Mahrez thumped towards on target.
City peppered Southampton’s goal – with Erling Haaland hitting the post – during an opening quarter of an hour which was painfully (and prophetically) one-sided.
Southampton held City to a pair of league draws last term by employing a carefully choreographed high press high-wire act. However, their eagerness to close City down on Saturday left the visitors exposed.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side got sucked over to the left flank trying to pen City in, leaving oceans of space for Cancelo to speed into on the other side. Jinking away from Stuart Armstrong with a breezy drop of the shoulder, Cancelo fizzed a vicious low effort between Armel Bella-Kotchap’s legs and into the bottom corner.
Shortly after the half-hour mark, City doubled their lead, inching towards an advantage that more accurately reflected their dominance. A turnover for City in the centre circle sparked a devastating surge spearheaded by Kevin De Bruyne.
The brilliant Belgian delayed and delayed before rolling the ball into Phil Foden’s stride. With Gavin Bazunu charging off his line, Foden delicately dinked City’s second of the afternoon into the net.
The beleaguered visitors had to wait until the final minute of the first half to attempt their first shot in anger of the contest. They didn’t muster another one until the 86th minute.
Southampton’s bright conclusion to the first half proved emphatically misleading. Within four minutes of the restart, Mahrez volleyed in City’s third. After a drive down the left from Cancelo, the Saints were effortlessly unbalanced by Rodri’s clipped pass to the opposite flank. Mahrez had ample time to watch the ball onto his laces, thumping his effort into the turf and past a helpless Bazunu.
City had sauntered into their suffocating ascendency without the direct intervention of Haaland. The inevitable, insatiable frontman ended his drought 65 minutes into proceedings. While Cancelo and De Bruyne exchanged a blur of passes down the left, Haaland sniffed out the space in the box, sweeping in his 20th goal of the season across all competitions.
Hasenhuttl’s precarious future in charge of Southampton was scarcely steadied by his side’s fourth consecutive defeat – though he can take a crumb of comfort by limiting City to just the four goals (they averaged five at home going into the game).
Manchester City vs Southampton player ratings – Premier League
1. Manchester City (4-3-3)
GK: Ederson – 6/10 – Grateful for the dappled sunlight in his penalty area with little work to keep him warm.
RB: Manuel Akanji – 6/10 – As he has to every task laid before him since joining the club, Akanji adapted well to his new role at right-back.
CB: Ruben Dias – 6/10 – Solid if unspectacular at the back for the reigning champions.
CB: Nathan Ake – 6/10 – Untroubled and unfussy in a straightforward outing.
LB: Joao Cancelo – 9/10 – Heavily involved in three goals, Cancelo fully exploited his freedom to sprint forward down the left touchline.
CM: Kevin De Bruyne – 8/10 – Carried the ball hovering above the turf with regal elegance.
CM: Rodri – 8/10 – Utterly integral to City’s game on and off the ball, snuffing out any flicker of a Southampton attack and igniting numerous for his own team.
CM: Bernardo Silva – 6/10 – Dropped alongside Rodri to help City build their way past Southampton’s high block.
RW: Riyad Mahrez – 7/10 – Fired off a flurry of shots in a bid to impress on a sporadic start, connecting sweetly with his volley.
ST: Erling Haaland – 7/10 – After three consecutive hat-tricks, Haaland was limited to just the one goal but his razor-sharp movement created Foden’s goal and eked out space for his own strike.
LW: Phil Foden – 8/10 – Dovetailed devilishly with Cancelo down City’s dominant left.
SUB: Jack Grealish (58′ for Foden) – 6/10
SUB: Cole Palmer (70′ for De Bruyne) – N/A
SUB: Julian Alvarez (70′ for Mahrez) – N/A
SUB: Sergio Gomez (70′ for Cancelo) – N/A
SUB: Rico Lewis (78′ for Bernardo) – N/A
Manager: Pep Guardiola – 8/10 – Clearly learned the lessons from last season’s frustrations against Southampton, setting his side up to weave through their attempts to press high and reaping the rewards of unleashing Cancelo from his inverted role.
2. Southampton (4-2-3-1)
GK: Gavin Bazunu – 5/10 – Prepared to sprint off his line and smother an opposing forward, Foden exploited this tendency with a brilliant first-half finish.
RB: Kyle Walker-Peters – 3/10 – Endured a torrid afternoon trying – and largely failing – to contain Cancelo and/or Foden.
CB: Armel Bella-Kotchap – 4/10 – Unfortunate to see the ball zip between his long legs for the opening goal but was distracted by Haaland for the second, leaving Foden wide open.
CB: Mohammed Salisu – 6/10 – Prepared to step out of defence and lunge into a tackle – which he got right more often than not.
LB: Romain Perraud – 4/10 – Repeatedly failed to close Mahrez down quickly enough despite avoiding the two-pronged attack Walker-Peters was subjected to.
CM: James Ward-Prowse – 5/10 – Failed to exert any significant impact on proceedings.
CM: Ibrahima Diallo – 4/10 – Watched on helpless as De Bruyne and co cruised through midfield at will.
RW: Stuart Armstrong – 2/10 – Left in a heap by Cancelo for the opener, Armstrong lost the ball in the buildup for City’s second. Not an afternoon to cherish.
AM: Adam Armstrong – 4/10 – Ineffective to the extreme, he couldn’t even provide a nuisance value.
LW: Joe Aribo – 5/10 – Skirted around the fringes of the contest without consequence.
ST: Che Adams – 5/10 – Saw so little of the ball, he was understandably rusty on the rare occasions he had possession.
SUB: Mohamed Elyounoussi (66′ S Armstrong) – 5/10
SUB: Moussa Djenepo (66′ for A Armstrong) – 5/10
SUB: Juan Larios (79′ for Walker-Peters) – N/A
SUB: Sekou Mara (79′ for Aribo) – N/A
Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl – 4/10 – It’s not easy playing City, but after watching his side so easily teased apart in the first half, Hasenhuttl failed to impart any advice at half-time which prevented City from finding a goal through a similar pattern of play.