The Champions bounced back from two successive defeats to complete a remarkable calendar year on a high, as a James Ward-Prowse own-goal and a Sergio Aguero header handed the visitors the points, after Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had cancelled out David Silva’s opener.
With Liverpool having extended their lead atop the Premier League table to ten points with a 5-1 victory over Arsenal, a City win at St Mary’s was imperative and Guardiola was delighted with his players’ response, singling out the returning Fernandinho and Oleks Zinchenko for special acclaim.
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“It was a good performance, especially in the first 30-35 minutes,” he reflected.
“3-1 is a good result. It could have been bigger but after two defeats, winning was the most important thing. The players did what they had to do – they are fantastic players.
“We gave absolutely everything. Look what happened with Oleks (after the Ukrainian was dispossessed for Southampton’s equaliser) and how he reacted as a young player.
“He didn’t hide. He was completely the opposite and went on to make an assist. He was the best player on the pitch.
“Fernandinho deserves to play for us. We know that. It’s the same with any club in the world – any team has important players and Ferna is one of them for us.
“Before 1-1, we played to score more; then they scored and the game was more equal but we carried on and scored the second goal.
“In previous games, we did everything and the first time the opponent arrived in our half they scored.
“We have to demand our people in front to finish the situation. We had four or five actions to finish… but today, had the feeling the players did absolutely everything.”
The victory also provided the perfect tonic, ahead of Thursday’s crunch top-of-the-table clash against league leaders Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.
Guardiola admitted the encounter is a ‘must-win’ for the Blues if the Champions are to retain our crown.
“We are doing well but the other team are possibly one of the strongest in Europe,” he stated.
“Of course, it’s important to win. The distance is big but they are coming to our home. It’s almost a final for us and we want to be there as long as possible for the Premier League.
“If the guys lose two games, we are out of the Premier League; if we win one game, we are in it – but there are a lot of games.
“What a manager wants to see is for his team to come back like we have many times. That’s the most important thing.
“They did it because they are incredible guys. You don’t have to win or lose to realise that.
“It means a little bit more than three points because it’s against a team in first place in incredible form. If we want to be there, we have to win the game.”