LONDON: Last season Manchester City recovered from an eight-point deficit to overtake United with virtually the last kick of the season to win the Premier League title.
This season the points deficit is even greater, albeit earlier. But the negative aura surrounding City’s comeback prospects is evidenced by other statistics.
At this stage last season they had scored 67 goals and conceded only 19; this season they have scored 48 goals and conceded 24. Also United have balanced the talent gap after having beaten City to the signng of top-scoring Robin Van Persie last summer.
Further, City last season – though they sometimes struggled to establish command in games – never looked at risk against the working-class outfits from the other end of the table. That invulnerability had gone as well. Southampton proved the point on Saturday.
Their surprisingly decisive 3:1 win was their first this season against a team in the top half of the table. It was also only their second at home in their past 10 league matches against City and their first win Mauricio Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins as manager.
City goalkeeper Hart said before the game that anything but victory at St Mary’s would all but end any their title hopes. Hart was then significantly to blame for that loss of hope. He might have reacted mofre effectively when Jason Puncheon opened the scoring in only the seventh minute; then he was blatantly at fault for misfielding a shot from Rickie Lambert and allowing Steven Davis to score No2.
Edin Dzeko reduced the deficit as half-time approached but Saints regained command when England midfielder Gareth Barry mistakenly passed the ball into his own goal unchallenged. That completed a bad night for Barry who had been caught in possession before Southampton’s opening goal.
City were missing injured Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic from central defence but that was not enough of an excuse for manager Roberto Mancini.
Furious Mancini, asked what percentage chance remained of City retaining the league trophy, said: “Ten per cent. I don’t think United will let us recover so many points. It was our worst game in maybe the last two or three years.
“We probably think because we won last year we’re top players. But if we want to stay at the top for a long time we need to work always like we did last year. I used to be always optimistic but I’m disappointed with us: Southampton deserved to win.
“We played with two players. It was two against 11, which is difficult.”
# # # #