Manchester City scraped a controversial goalless draw at home to Southampton on Saturday at the end of a difficult week for manager Pep Guardiola.
The Premier League champions were far less impressive against Saints than they had been in beating RB Leipzig 6-3 in midweek – a victory that was overshadowed by Guardiola’s post-match comments.
The Catalan coach upset fans by appearing to question the attendance for another big home triumph, urging “all our people to come” for a clash against “so, so dangerous” Southampton.
Guardiola later insisted his comments about fans had been misinterpreted, but Southampton certainly lived up to his pre-match lofty billing and were left disappointed to head home with only a point after a second-half penalty awarded against Kyle Walker was overturned – albeit Raheem Sterling also had a late goal struck off.
Chances were few and far between up until the penalty incident, although Che Adams dragged wide as pressure built on the City goal.
It appeared as though Southampton would have a huge opportunity to win at the Etihad Stadium for the first time since 2004 when Walker barged Adam Armstrong to the ground and was shown a red card on the hour mark.
But referee Jon Moss was called to the pitchside monitor and ruled in City’s favour, giving Walker an unlikely reprieve.
City were well supported throughout – despite the empty seats clearly visible in the stands – but could not capitalise on their narrow escape, even with Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden introduced from the bench.
Sterling did appear to have stolen victory as he turned in the rebound when Alex McCarthy got down to Foden’s 90th-minute header, yet another VAR review found the England forward just offside.
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Guardiola’s selling point to absent supporters was City’s 16 goals across their prior three matches at the Etihad this season. Going back to the previous campaign, the champions had won three consecutive home league games 5-0.
So this display fell some way short of expectations. Indeed, City landed only a single shot on target from 16 attempts – that being Foden’s late header – for their lowest such return since also hitting the target just once against Stoke City in March 2017.
Some of their work at the back in the second half was similarly wayward.
Armstrong so unlucky
Ralph Hasenhuttl will surely question why the penalty decision was overturned when Walker did not appear to win the ball as Armstrong bore down on goal. For the Southampton striker, the spot-kick would have been reward for a fine showing.
Never afraid to shoot, he had four efforts, but he also contested 11 duels and made two tackles, epitomising a spirited Saints performance.
Kyle walks a fine line
Walker has previous when it comes to rash challenges in the box, last season conceding three penalties in the league – a tally only matched by Tottenham’s Davinson Sanchez.
The right-back himself appeared to expect the clash with Armstrong would add to that total, looking a little surprised and very relieved when referee Moss returned from the monitor with a new verdict.
City’s focus turns to the EFL Cup and Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday before a mammoth stretch that sees them face Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool in succession. Southampton are at Sheffield United in the cup on Tuesday.