Dominant performance by Pellegrini's men breathes life into title race
FA Premier League
Sunday 30 November 2014, 13.30 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Mangala, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Nasri (Lampard 65), Navas (Demichelis 75), Jovetic (Milner 54), Aguero
Unused: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Pozo
Goals: Toure (51), Lampard (80), Clichy (87)
Booked: Aguero, Mangala, Kompany
Sent off: Mangala (74)
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the Match: Fernandinho
Chelsea's scoreless draw at The Stadium of Light on Saturday evening gave City the opportunity to narrow the gap at the top of the league to six points, and the champions seized the chance in style. A comprehensive 3-0 victory, despite some poor officiating from Mike Jones, saw the Blues leapfrog Southampton into second place.
A trip to St Mary's was potentially tricky, with the Saints having only conceded one goal at home all season, and on an impressive run of form under manager Ronald Koeman. The Blues, however, made light work of their opponents and put in arguably their most accomplished performance of the season.
City should have taken the lead in the first half when Sergio Aguero was hacked down in the area by Jose Fonte, but referee Mike Jones inexplicably booked Aguero for diving. It was an astonishing decision, and one that may well see Jones demoted next weekend, but fortunately it didn't affect the overall outcome. City largely dominated the first half, although Joe Hart was forced into making saves in quick succession from Graziano Pelle and Steven Davis. Stevan Jovetic saw his effort blocked on the line by Alderweireld, and the sides went in level at half time.
Southampton lost Morgan Schneiderlin to injury during the break, and his absence allowed City to take control of the game. Yaya Tour gave City the lead in the 51st minute, diving home from the edge of the box after being teed up by Aguero. His shot took a slight deflection on the way past Fraser Forster, but the Blues deserved the lead.
Milner and Lampard came on for Jovetic and Nasri to shore up City's midfield, and Pellegrini's side looked comfortable until Eliaquim Mangala was dismissed in the 74th minute. Yaya Toure was caught in possession by substitute Shane Long, and the Frenchman brought Long down on the edge of the box. Having already been booked for a crude challenge in the first half, a second yellow card was inevitable and City were reduced to ten men.
Southampton, encouraged by the home crowd, briefly rallied but the game was stretched and City remained a threat on the counter attack. After 80 minutes Milner fed Lampard on the edge of the box, and the former Chelsea man finished smartly in the bottom corner. Extending Lampard's loan deal from New York City must surely be a priority for Pellegrini in the coming weeks.
Sergio Aguero uncharacteristically missed a golden opporunity to extend City's lead further, before setting up Clichy in the final minutes after another swift counter attack. Clichy, who had never scored previously for the Blues, buried the ball into the top corner of Forster's net to seal a deserved win. By this time, City were down to nine men after Vinent Kompany departed with a suspected hamstring injury, having already used all three substitutions. Pellegrini will be sweating on the fitness of his influential captain, particularly with Mangala now suspended for the game at Sunderland on Wednesday night.
Overall though it was a good day for the Blues, and has breathed life into a title race that many had prematurely declared over. Three wins in seven days has seen the mood lift at the club, and City go into the crucial December period full of confidence.