RAHEEM! Raheem Sterling for the win again! I’m very aware that most of you are not reading this in the immediate aftermath of the game but I’m writing in the immediate aftermath of the game, so just go back in time to the emotional state you were in and I’ll meet you there.
Here’s a reminder:
I could watch that video on repeat, all day long.
Are you there yet? No? Okay, one more celebratory video to reset your mind.
Alright! I think we’re all back in that moment after Sterling’s goal, so let’s begin.
I was forced to watch this game at a Mazda dealership while my car was getting serviced and was freaking out like both of those videos above with no shame while everyone around me thought I was in need of medical attention. I haven’t felt this alive since the last time Raheem Sterling scored a game-winning goal, which was like five days ago (even though this one feels so much sweeter).
I’m going to be honest with you guys, this article is going to be about 50% an expression of my emotional rollercoaster, 45% a tactical analysis, and 5% videos of people celebrating. Either way, let’s enjoy this victory! These are the games you love to watch as a fan, the win streak continues!!
I will admit, this reference has been applicable for some time now considering Manchester City haven’t lost for a few months, but this seems like the appropriate time to pull it off the shelf. I’m still in the heat of the moment, but I’m thinking I’m going to name my first born son Raheem. And if I don’t have any sons, I will get a male dog and name him Raheem. We can all agree that Raheem Sterling deserves at least that honor after snatching victory from the jaws of defeat once again.
Okay, let me get it together and settle down.
Manchester City won their 12th Premier League game in a row against Southampton on Wednesday, though the Saints played incredibly well. Manager Mauricio Pellegrino deployed his lineup in an unexpected, defensive 5-4-1 formation that was very effective in shutting City down for most of the game.
Packing it in against City doesn’t usually work as we all know since almost every team plays that way, yet Pep Guardiola’s team still has not lost a game all season. Saints, however, were more disciplined than most teams and were well prepared for dealing with the quick passing City are known for.
Southampton would consistently send two men towards the ball when City were in possession, one to cut off a passing lane and one to track the player with possession once the ball was moved to prevent one-two link-ups. They employed a counter-attacking strategy, but tended to only commit numbers forward on set piece opportunities.
Unsurprisingly, Southampton generated their best chances off set pieces but also allowed City space to attack from them. The best scoring chance of the first half came from a Saints corner that was flicked on by center-back Virgil van Dijk, who was dangerous on corners throughout. Fellow defender Wesley Hoedt lost his man to get a head to the ball first and rang it off the crossbar.
The lone Southampton goal came from a looping cross that soared over the entire City backline just past the head of Fabian Delph and controlled perfectly by Soufiane Boufal. In his desperate attempt to clear the ball, Delph’s momentum took him past the Southampton midfielder, who was able to take a touch toward goal. Two City players, David Silva and Nicolas Otamendi, closed down on the ball, leaving Oriol Romeu unmarked for a cutback pass and a strong finish into the top of the goal.
For as good as Southampton were, Manchester City were still the much better team for 90 minutes on Wednesday. Pep Guardiola started both Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero in this game, something he said wasn’t likely to do with Fabian Delph as his left-back. Jesus played primarily as the left winger in a formation that was announced as a 4-3-3 but looked more like a 4-1-4-1 (I know City’s system is too fluid to pinpoint a specific formation but we’ll call it that for simplicity’s sake).
Jesus and Agüero played well together and showed the same chemistry we saw earlier in the season when City leaned on the 3-5-2. The two interchanged positions at times and clearly understood how to maintain appropriate spacing. Agüero would regularly drop deep, allowing Jesus to make diagonal runs in behind him. With possession on the right wing, Agüero would move towards the ball and Jesus would fill in behind him in more of a traditional strike partnership.
City attacked areas of the pitch at the edges of Southampton’s tight formation, inviting them to step out. Specifically, City did a lot of their work along the sidelines between the halfway line and the 18. They would flood four or five bodies to this area with Fernandinho and Agüero often shading over. This allowed City to outnumber Southampton in these areas and maintain possession within range for quick strikes, waiting for their opponents to make a mistake.
City created a number of great chances in this game, and didn’t finish with more goals due to some inaccurate finishing and because Fraser Forster went all Mr. Fantastic, making 10 saves on the night.
Anyway, on to the best part. In the 97th minute, after all of Pep’s changes, City were looking at dropping points for the first time in forever. Guardiola had on Bernardo Silva, David Silva and De Bruyne all playing as central attacking midfielders with Sterling moved over to the left wing. Kyle Walker was moved forward to essentially the right wing position and City were definitely going for the 3 points.
With City pushing for the win, Southampton packed it in even further to see out the result. But as we all know, you have to be perfect to keep this team out of the goal when they are thirsty for it. In the final moments, Sterling cut in from the left wing and found De Bruyne outside the box. The Belgian drew three defenders to him and slipped the ball through right back to Sterling. The Englishman set himself up and curled an absolutely beauty into the top corner of the goal, right where Mom keeps the peanut butter.
After that, mayhem ensued and I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a few minutes. The sound of the crowd screaming as one gives me chills every time I watch that goal. The reactions from the team and Pep were a joy to watch and of course Benjamin Mendy was right in the middle of it all. These are the moments that remind us why we love sports and love football. I went from complete disappointment to looking for strangers to hug in a matter of seconds.
I have to say, what an incredible player Raheem Sterling is! He has become such a well-rounded footballer in every aspect of the game. And what an incredible team Manchester City is! They have provided us with so many great, exciting moments to be proud of and we still have much of the season to go. Manchester City are in the midst of an all-time great season and it is truly special to be able to witness it.