The Mancunion

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Sterling saves City

Raheem Sterling grabbed a 96th minute winner as Manchester City stretched their winning Premier League run to 12 against Southampton

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In-form English winger Raheem Sterling was the hero as he scored the winner with practically the last kick against Southampton. City had taken the lead through a Kevin De Bruyne free kick before being pegged back by an equaliser from Oriol Romeu. With time rapidly expiring, Sterling curled an effort in at the far post to give City all three points.

With the games coming thick and fast now, Pep Guardiola rotated his squad for this match having played away at Huddersfield on Sunday. Gabriel Jesus and İlkay Gündoğan came in while Leroy Sané and David Silva dropped out.

City maintained their usual 4-3-3 formation as Jesus and Sergio Agüero rotated their positions. This meant the two South Americans were in close proximity to each other a lot and subsequently the majority of City’s play went down the left flank. This however isolated Raheem Sterling on the other wing who did not get a look in for a significant portion of the game.

The game started at a slow pace as the home side saw plenty of the ball but lacked any of the energy needed to break down Southampton’s five-man defence. Playing in Silva’s usual role, Gündoğan was involved frequently but lacked their creative flair to do anything with the ball.

At the other end, Vincent Kompany was looking incredibly rusty. Within the first ten minutes he had needlessly gifted away possession with poor passes and when his their misplaced pass came a little later, he was forced to give away a free kick to stop the Saints attack. The combination of another missed pass and the sacrifice of a dangerous set piece to a tall Southampton side was enough to make Guardiola a seething man on the touchline.

Southampton’s physical superiority was looking to be their only route to goal and a corner to the away side resulted in a header colliding off the bar. However, with the first two Southampton corners of the game, City broke quickly and had chances through Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne requiring Fraser Forster to make a quick-fire double save.

With City struggling to get the ball towards Agüero, Fernandinho was taking it forward and firing shots away from deep. His effort was palmed for a corner and Nicolás Otamendi could only head his effort over from a short distance.

Southampton’s third corner of the game arrived and they had learnt from their mistakes of the previous two. This time, they only left the tall players in the box and had plenty of quick runners back ready to snuff out a City counter.

The first half came to a close with the score level at 0-0 and it was a poor performance from City.

The home side came out for the second half with a clearer sense of urgency and it was just two minutes after the restart that they got their opening goal. A De Bruyne free kick from the left flank hit Virgil van Dijk on its way into the net. The low, driven shot was initially credited to Otamendi and then amended to a van Dijk own goal before finally settling on a De Bruyne goal having been on target before van Dijk touched it.

City had got their opener but even then there was a lack of pace and movement. Everything seemed slower than we are used to seeing and this may be due to the lack of Sané and Silva but something just wasn’t ticking.

Jesus and De Bruyne both had chances shortly after the goal. In a rare moment of link-up play between the two strikers, Agüero played in Jesus who should have put his effort past the keeper. Forster made a good save and then blocked the following De Bruyne effort.

The away side were threatening on set pieces and van Dijk was looking to make amends for the first goal. A corner found the head of the 6ft 4 Dutch defender but he could only fire it over.

Minutes later though and Southampton did get their goal. A quick throw-in gave Mario Lemina a lot of work to do but he managed to squeeze the ball past Gündoğan and towards the far post. Fabian Delph seemed to lose track of it and stuck out a desperate foot but he made no contact as it fell to substitute Sofiane Boufal. The Moroccan squared the ball into the path of Oriol Romeu who side-footed it into the net.

It was level with 15 minutes left to play and City again struggled to create chances. David Silva was introduced for Jesus, who had a poor game, and City swapped to a four-man midfield with Sterling coming to the left and De Bruyne playing wide right. It was an odd tactical switch from Guardiola to put De Bruyne out wide conserving Southampton’s aerial superiority.

Many of City’s chances were coming from whipped balls into the boxes but the away side’s defence was happily dealing with them. With 85 minutes on the clock, plenty of City fans began to make their way for the exit. The ones that stayed were overjoyed to see the fourth official signal that there were to be five additional minutes.

City pushed for the winner, to the point where they were at risk to a Saints counter but the away side were happy with the point and looked for the corners. In the 93rd minute, Sterling did put the ball in the net but the goal was ruled out by referee Paul Tierney for an alleged foul.

This would prove to be a piece of foreshadowing though as just three minutes later, Sterling did get the winner. Cutting in from the left flank, Sterling played a quick one-two with De Bruyne before curling a shot into the far corner. The precision of the strike left Forster with no chance and the stadium erupted with noise. The fans celebrated as if the title had been won there and then such is the euphoria that comes with last-minute winners.

The coaching staff had barely left the pitch after their celebrations as the referee blew for full time. Once again, the stadium erupted with noise as City extended their winning run in the league to 12. It was by no means a good performance but when you have a team full of individual superstars, one of them is bound to save you.