Sluggish Manchester City stumble after Europe once again

You can't say he didn't warn us.

Pep Guardiola's perceived plea for a larger Etihad attendance, following Manchester City's Champions League victory over RB Leipzig in midweek, also included a grave warning for the visit of Ralph Hasenhuttl's Southampton.

"We will be tired," he told BT Sport. "I know the team from Ralph is quite similar [to Leipzig], the way they play. They are so, so dangerous with good quality and it's a really important game for us."

Guardiola, not for the first time in his career, was proven right. Southampton claimed a hard-fought point to draw 0-0 on Saturday afternoon, in front of a near sell-out crowd (at least that comment was heeded).

Those dropped points - which, given Southampton's impressive display, might be more aptly framed as one point gained - leave City winless in half of their last 18 Premier League matches following a Champions League tie.

Jesse Marsch's Leipzig were able to bloody City's nose in a helter-skelter 6-3 thriller in midweek but were convincingly outgunned by the conclusion. Southampton, conversely, and unlike the majority of the few opponents City do drop points against, were well worth their share of the spoils.

Despite five changes to the starting XI that duked it out three days earlier, City looked jaded and disjointed, mustering just one shot on target all game - and that didn't come until the 90th minute, from the second phase of a corner.

Southampton, playing a brave high block that smothered City's passing options when playing out from the back, denied their hosts a shot of any kind in the opening 20 minutes. Guardiola was quick to pinpoint the struggles his team were caused by a well-drilled opponent post-match: “We draw a game against a good opponent that defended really well and have good quality players in the middle," he told NBC.

"It was a tight game. We were not comfortable in our build up. We lost more balls than usual and created a feeling that we were not good."

Guardiola was forced into replacing Rodri with Fernandinho after the Spain international could only muster an hour in midweek. The lack of fluency in that altered area of the pitch didn't escape the Catalan: “We didn’t win because the balls forward were not good. It is because we didn’t do our process with the back four and Fernandinho. Those five players have to bring the ball forward for the others."

Prior to Saturday's stalemate, City led the league in PPDA (a proxy for pressing which measures the number of opposition passes allowed before a team applies a defensive action - the lower the number, the more intense the pressing) with just 7.31 - harking back to the stifling form of 2017-19 (per UnderStat).

Against Southampton, with half the outfielders perhaps a little heavier-legged, City allowed the visitors 11.53 passes before putting a foot in. However, fatigue didn't only affect the body according to Guardiola: “Today we didn’t have the freshness in our mind. I wouldn’t say in our legs, in our mind. It is a pity."

Since the 2019/20 season, City have only collected an average of 1.8 points in matches following their European excursions - a hefty plummet compared to the 2.3 points per game from their other Premier League fixtures in this period.

For comparison, Liverpool - who strolled to a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace while City toiled away against the Saints - have lost just one of their 19 post-Europe matches, collecting 2.3 points per game in the same time frame.

Had Jonathan Moss not been directed over to the pitch-side screen and overturned Kyle Walker's red card and penalty an hour in, matters could have been made much worse for City - although the hosts were denied a goal by the same review system at the death.

In the end a draw was the least Southampton's stifling deserved as Guardiola's premonition came to the fore. Turns out he may know a thing or two about the beautiful game.

Source : 90min