It may be back to square one for Manchester City but Pep Guardiola’s side returned to winning ways in emphatic and often frantic fashion, responding to Sunday’s derby defeat by hitting five past Southampton.
Two goals apiece for Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez as well as yet another for Ilkay Gundogan did the damage to put City 14 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
There is every chance that this could be the start of yet another long winning run after Manchester United brought the previous record-breaking streak to an end after 21 games. Guardiola’s players will have to show a greater degree of control than they did for at times here, though.
City did not have Southampton in the same stranglehold as other top-flight opponents in recent months. James Ward-Prowse’s penalty restored parity for a time during the first half and there was a consolation strike for Che Adams, at fault for the goal which restored City’s lead.
Yet in a contest full of incident and some refereeing controversy to boot, the runaway league leaders were always likely to extend their advantage at the summit by another three points.
Guardiola reacted to Sunday’s derby defeat with five changes, bringing Phil Foden into the line-up, but there was no starting place for Sergio Aguero even with Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus among the substitutes. Those changes did not exactly spark City into life, either. Anything but, in fact.
The opening quarter of an hour was an upside-down, bizarro world version of practically every other game at the Etihad over the last few months. One team was dominating possession, recycling the ball in the opposition half and probing for an opening as usual, but it was Southampton.
Yet even with three-quarters of possession, Hasenhuttl’s side could not get a clear sight of goal while City scored with their first.
It came when Ruben Dias sent a majestic cross-field pass out to the left-hand side, where Oleksandar Zinchenko sent a low cross towards Foden. Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy showed quick reflexes to get down and parry the resulting shot but De Bruyne followed in, hitting the crossbar from point-blank range but following in on the line.
With order restored, a routine win appeared to be on the cards and it was, but not before Southampton’s equaliser from the penalty spot. Aymeric Laporte was penalised for pulling on Jannik Vestergaard after the defender saw a powerful header beaten away by Ederson. The City goalkeeper was helpless for Ward-Prowse’s subsequent spot-kick, diving the wrong way.
Guardiola and his backroom staff were frustrated with that decision but not as frustrated as they would be with one in the other penalty area shortly after.
When McCarthy allowed a pass to slip underneath his foot, Foden looked to capitalise and the goalkeeper attempted to make amends with a mistimed sliding challenge. McCarthy certainly made contact with Foden but crucially, referee Jon Moss also felt he made contact with the ball. Andrew Madley, the VAR, could not dispute that with the footage. No penalty.
City were incensed, though the injustice only fired Guardiola’s players to put the contest to bed. Adams helped, playing a wild crossfield pass across the face of his own penalty area into Mahrez’s feet. A shimmy inside around several panic-stricken Southampton defenders and sublime, guided finish into the bottom left-hand corner restored City’s advantage.
After yet more Mahrez magic on the stroke of half time, Gundogan followed in his team-mate’s shot once it bounced back off the post and made it three. But in this form, Mahrez would not be denied.
Fernandinho’s high pressing turned possession over in Southampton’s defensive third and Foden’s low pass picked the Algerian out. Once away from Ward-Prowse, he found the narrowing gap between the Southampton shirts crowding him and out of McCarthy’s reach.
Things briefly threatened to get silly. A minute after City’s fourth, Southampton were back to within two when Nathan Redmond’s backheel and Ward-Prowse’s deflected attempt fell kindly for Adams, who rifled past Ederson. That, perhaps, helped to prevent the type of spectacular collapse which Hasenhuttl’s side have previously suffered.
It was still not the end of the scoring, though. Not satisfied with finally scoring his second league open play this season, De Bruyne found a third. Foden was instrumental again, holding the ball up on the edge of the area under pressure and allowing De Bruyne to sweep it from his feet, move through on McCarthy then apply a rolled finish.
The points secured, Mahrez and De Bruyne were soon removed. Aguero was introduced but could not emulate them in scoring. It was not, in truth, a classic City performance but the lead is large enough for that not to matter. The next streak starts here.