Manchester City 3
De Bruyne 9’, Delph 20’, Kolarov 69’
MANCHESTER // It almost feels an understatement to brand him luckless. Fabian Delph was injured 17 minutes into his Manchester City debut. He was hurt again nine seconds into his first start of the season, for England against Switzerland. Four months into his City career, it only incorporated six substitute appearances.
The hoary notion that luck evens itself out can be disputed. Yet if a player deserved a deflected goal, perhaps it was Delph. His skimming shot was well struck, but the touch off Virgil van Dijk proved telling. His first competitive start for City was rendered a profitable affair.
His has been a belated impact. Delph probably should have begun last week’s game against Liverpool when, in his absence, City were overrun in midfield. His goals are comparative rarities but his energy is a constant.
It is a reason City paid £8 million (Dh44.1m) for him in July. It is a forgotten fee, one outstripped by much more glamorous additions.
Yet as City won for the first time in four games – beating Southampton 3-1 – it was an encouraging afternoon for signings big and small alike.
The £49m addition Raheem Sterling’s reunion with Liverpool had been a frustrating affair, but he brought verve against Southampton, along with a vital role in the opener.
The £54m buy Kevin de Bruyne began his City career with a flurry of goals and assists. He had been less productive of late but, after a barren four games when he mustered neither, a personal wait was ended.
He ended with evidence he can both score and create, finishing from Sterling’s ninth-minute cross and fashioning the third goal with the deftest of chips to find the unmarked Aleksandar Kolarov. Typically, the Serb’s finish was rather more forceful than the Belgian’s pass.
It was required. Kolarov killed off Southampton after a spirited revival. They lost the match and their unbeaten away record, but emerged with more credit than seemed likely in an opening 20 minutes when City scored twice and made football appear enviably easy.
After only managing one goal in their previous three games, Pellegrini’s side struck three times. It was not the only reversal in their fortunes.
The first felt the most significant. The pressing game was City’s undoing last week. They aped their tormentors. They played at pace and displayed a hunger to win the ball back. Their opener had similarities with Liverpool’s first goal seven days earlier.
A right-back was robbed by an energetic chaser, Sterling dispossessing Maya Yoshida. This time the finish came from an attacker, with the winger supplying De Bruyne with an easy finish. It was a sign of the sharpness in City’s attack. Sergio Aguero’s presence was a reason, but the Argentine supplied the note of concern, limping off. Pellegrini suggested it was nothing serious, yet it appeared worrying.
One talisman, David Silva, returned as a substitute, but another was already missing. It is no coincidence that City’s clean sheets tend to come when Vincent Kompany is present. They invariably concede in his absence, and did so again, Shane Long heading in Sadio Mane’s cross. City’s fragility was apparent, both in stand-in goalkeeper Willy Cabellero’s handling and in the way Dusan Tadic troubled them with his dribbling.
If Koeman was right to introduce the Serb at half time, the decisions to omit him and Cedric Soares, who was replaced by the erring Yoshida, both backfired, just as Pellegrini was rewarded for picking, and buying, Delph.
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