After three defeats in four games, the last of which saw us struggle to play with anything like our usual quality, the 3-1 win at St. Mary’s marked a clear return to form.
This was far more like the City we’ve come to expect over the past 18 months: free-flowing, inventive and hard-working, a mix that overwhelmed Southampton and saw us run out deserved winners.
And it didn’t take City long to go ahead. Having been denied by a fine save from Alex McCarthy inside three minutes, it was Silva who opened the scoring moments later when he powered past Alex McCarthy with a brilliant first-time finish from Bernardo’s cutback.
Riyad Mahrez was inches away from curling one into the top corner after a fine breakaway move that begin inside our own area, before McCarthy made a quite brilliant point-blank save from Sergio Aguero to keep his side in the game.
However, some frailties remain. Despite City’s dominance, Southampton managed to carve out some clear openings. Ederson was forced into a fine save from Charlie Austin’s header, before a mistake from Oleksandr Zinchenko saw the Ukrainian dispossessed by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg who lashed the ball home to make it 1-1.
Character was required, and City showed plenty of it. On the stroke of half-time, we were back in front when Raheem Sterling’s attempted cross hit James Ward-Prowse to wrong-foot McCarthy and divert the ball into the back of the net, and in stoppage time at the end of the first half Aguero headed home from Zinchenko’s cross.
It was the Argentine’s 50th Premier League goal of Guardiola’s reign and it gave City a deserved two-goal half-time lead.
Not often do we see @sterling7 play on the left, but he’s been absolutely outstanding. A constant menace to Saints.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) December 30, 2018
The second-half saw much of the same. Raheem Sterling forced McCarthy into another excellent save – this time with his head – and Aguero, who looked close to his best, swivelled and rattled the bar with a fine effort.
Hojbjerg was sent off late on for a nasty challenge on Fernandinho as the Blues saw the game out comfortably to seal three points.
What it means
The result sees us leapfrog Tottenham and move into second place in the Premier League table, seven points behind leaders Liverpool who visit the Etihad Stadium on Thursday for what looks set to be a crucial game in this season’s title race.
Man of the match: Fernandinho
There's been plenty of talk this week about the Brazilian's influence on this side, and his return to the starting lineup offered further evidence to support those claims.
He was superb. Not only does he offer protection to the back four, he has a great range of passing that helps City launch attacks.
A world-class operator.
City win in style
The result will obviously please Guardiola and the rest of the backroom team after three defeats in four league games, but the performance was most satisfying.
After a sluggish display at Leicester, City were playing with far more vim and vigour. The ball was being moved at pace, our pressing was high and there was invention in attack - all the hallmarks of us at our best under Guardiola.
Aymeric Laporte played numerous diagonal balls that stretched the Saints backline, Ederson continually invited pressure before starting attacks expertly, and the two Silvas were at their creative best in the middle.
Southampton couldn't handle our variety.
There are difficult moments in every season that require a reaction - and City delivered today.
It was a test of nerve and character before the game and we produced a performance to allay any fears of a long-term slump. Not only are this group of players immensely talented, they so often display the kind of mental fortitude needed to win silverware.
“It was a good performance, especially in the first 30-35 minutes.
“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.”
City welcome Liverpool to the Etihad in four days’ time in what looks like our biggest domestic game for some time.