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Southampton At Manchester City The Verdict
Thursday, 11th Mar 2021 08:13

It was a defeat but perhaps the most satisfying one of the season, we came through it unscathed and with our pride intact, but more importantly without any serious injuries, now the rest of the season can start.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's team selection drew gasps of breath, we had made six changes from the team at Sheffield United, the manager was clearly prioritising the up and coming games and most people I have spoken were in full agreement with this.

The bonus though was although this might have been a second string team it put in a shift, it battled and it took the game to Manchester City, for the first 15 minutes it dominated the game and possession, but the problem was it couldn't last and with virtually their first attempt on goal City scored and it was a gift.

But if the watching TV audience thought this was the start of a landslide victory they would be wrong, although for the next 10 minutes they had plenty of evidence as we tried to gift City a second with some poor passing and touches.

But then suddenly we were back in the game on 25 minutes, Nathan Redmond get plenty of stick from Saints fans and I have already seen some relating to this game, but against City he was far from the worst player on the pitch and he made a positive contribution when his run and shot forced the keeper into a save and from the resulting corner a thumping header from Jannik Vestergaard drew a great save and then from the rebound the Dane was fouled and James Ward Prowse despatched his second penalty of the week.

Our tails were up and hopes were high that perhaps we might get a result, but then Che Adams had a brainstorm and just before the break tried a suicidal cross pitch pass which was cut out by Mahrez and we were again behind.

When we visit Man City it seems mandatory we concede in the final minute of a half and we didn't let the home fans down by conceding a third sloppy goal of the half in the 3rd minute of first half injury time.

So the game looked over as we kicked off the second half, surely it would be backs to the wall and City might well get a hatful.

When Mahrez got his second it looked the case, but within a minute Che Adams had scored and it was clear that we were not going to lay down and die.

Sadly De Bruyne soon restored the three goal cushion and the worry was back of a landslide with still half an hour left.

But we didn't lose our spirit and we took the game to City as often as they took it to us, the difference was they didn't keep gifting us chances.

Ralph put on Diallo in place of Jack Stephens to hold the the midfield and that shored up the final 30 minutes.

When the final whistle blew there was relief, never has a 5-2 defeat been so welcome, our first objective had been to come through the game injury free and aside from a groin strain for Moussa Djenepo that was the case, we have cover for Moussa and can handle that, but no one was injured in key areas and that was the first objective achieved.

The second was to put in a performance and not get walloped, this was again achieved, the only downside of the game was that we handed them most of their goals, if we hadn't then perhaps the scoreline would have been a lot better.

On this note I don't buy into the view that we should have played a full team as we might have got a result, hindsight is a fine thing, but we had to gamble and for Ralph that was about prioritising the upcoming games, we have lost our top scorer for those, we had to assess that risk against the slim chance of beating a City side in superb form, from this perspective Ralph made the right decision.

The end result was exactly what we set out to achieve, anything else would have been a bonus.

Some will say this approach was negative, but I don't agree, this is the modern game, it is not always about taking every game as it comes, the likes of Manchester City will have no problems with changing their team to prioritise the Champions League so we are just doing similar.

So now we go into the two most important games of the season so far, if we beat Brighton that will put us on the cusp of the safety mark and if we beat Bournemouth the following weekend suddenly the season will start to get interesting, personally i think the gamble we took at the Etihad will have been worthwhile if we win these two games.

Photo: Action Images

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highfield49 added 09:06 - Mar 11
Having had the opportunity to reflect on the game, and allowed post match irritations to gain a bit more perspective, I'm reluctant to be negative but Jack Stephens was absolutely woeful. If RH told players to not stretch themselves and avoid injuries then he certainly took the advice on board, I don't think that I have seen a player in a Saints shirt consistently walk around the pitch before. Thankfully he won't be playing against Brighton and neither will McCarthy. On the positive side JWP was a joy to watch and Che seems to be back on form despite his over ambitious cross field pass. It's a shame that Bertie couldn't have played down the left and Ramsay given an opportunity at right back but I guess he might have had a tough time against a very good City team. Three points on Sunday and put this game to bed.

Farlow added 09:11 - Mar 11
We are close to being a good side but some of our defending is woeful.I appreciate
Ralph likes to play from the back but the players must learn when its time just to
hoof it.

SanMarco added 09:28 - Mar 11
I don't see anything satisfying about the first half performance. Against a well below-par City we somehow contrived to concede only one less than we did vs Manure. Apart from KWP our full defensive might was out there. We should have got to half-time at least level and better sides would have been leading. Don't get me wrong, an improved City in the second half would have still beaten us, and on most occasions, those aforementioned better sides, but I would have been satisfied with that type of defeat. They are the best in Europe after all - but how many would we have conceded in that first half if City had been at their best?

Yes, most of us would have taken a three goal defeat before the start but the manner of it was concerning. That wasn't a 'second string' side - aside from the strange GK choice only a couple of available players didnt start. If we continue to play like that for the rest of the season we will not stay up by an awful lot. I may be a hypocrite for fearing a thrashing and then moaning at 'only' a comfortable defeat but City were rubbish in that first half and we still went in at HT with the game lost.

beynali73 added 09:36 - Mar 11
When is a 5-2 defeat not a thrashing? When it's Saints. Why are we so obsessed by avoiding injuries? Because we keep picking up injuries. Why do we keep picking up injuries and insufficiant cover? Because we have a small squad who play an intense press every game. Why do we have a small squad? Because Ralph said he prefers working with a small squad. But the 70/20 intense press/sit back with exhaustion match split obviously contributes heavily to picking up injuries. This cycle is self fullfilling so we are going to have to get used to feast and famine as Saints fans. We are going to equally be applauded for our entertaining attacking football but then become laughing stocks when we go on record breaking losing streaks/losing scorelines.

There has to be a middle way - I think it used to be called in game management.

The main reason we did not lose by 9 last night was because Stephens was taken off after their 5th went in and the midfield was shored up. Ralph likes to spring surprises but managerial surprises are supposed to fox the opposition not our team. Stephens was played in a position he has never featured in for Saints and this was not the game to try a crazy experiment. I have confidence in him on the ball but not defensively.

Ralph is the man for the job but he has to stop this pre-season style experimentation during the season.



saintmark1976 added 09:40 - Mar 11
I’m genuinely beginning to wonder if the stresses of being a Premiership manager are having an adverse effect on Ralph. What other explanation can there be for his team selection yesterday?

Bertrand playing at right back when there are two right backs on the bench. Stevens playing in midfield when there is a midfielder on the bench. An out of form McCarthy playing in goal when there is an inform keeper on the bench. Redmond playing (when frankly he shouldn’t even be in the squad) ahead of not one but two in form forwards on the bench. Short of putting all the players names in a hat and drawing them out at random he couldn’t have done a better job of putting out a team to lose a game.

halftimeorange added 10:03 - Mar 11
So, a Saints out of position X1 4 versus an out of sorts Man C 3. Of course, we contrived to present two of the goals to them. Like others, I am mystified why so many players were out of position and, for our defence, why was McCarthy preferred to Forster and then allowed to reintroduce his tippy-tapping passing inside the area, losing the ball and generally spreading confusion and panic amongst players who had seemed more comfortable in the previous games with Forster clearing the ball upfield? Have to say that Diallo's introduction steadied our uneven keel and got us through without conceding a few more. This was not a good result but, it could be classed as less disastrous than it might have been. I just hope we are tighter against Brighton.

teamster1 added 10:09 - Mar 11
I think it is a dangerous ploy to prioritise and pick and choose who you play. Yes even with a full side we may have lost last night especially with some of the defending but if we lose to Brighton we will be in the thick of it. The same defenders with the addition of KWP will play Sunday and those same defenders will make the same basic errors they always make because they do not learn. They ball watch and they don’t anticipate. Our defending concerns me. If we lose to Brighton the pressure will ramp up and that’s when you need leadership and talkers on the pitch and I fail to see any. I have been saying for ages that Mcarthy is flat footed which is why he struggles with the ball at his feet and looks awkward and why he can’t move across his line very well. Mahrez first goal was a perfect example. There was only one place he could put the ball and that was to the keepers far right and McCarthys first movement is left. Redmond sorry but at present just a waste of time has no confidence or belief. As for Adams pass for there 2nd goal don’t they teach you not to play that ball at school? I can tolerate mistakes but not when they are repeated time and time again. Ralph needs to get a defensive coach in for sure. Last thing I don’t care that we played alright and lost 5-2. we still lost, would Pep be praising us if we had beat them. Doubt it.

Sadoldgit added 10:22 - Mar 11
I think that conceding 5 goals does come under the heading of a walloping Nick!

allsaint54 added 10:40 - Mar 11
Nick, you seem surprised by the criticism Redmond receives. Although not the worst Saints player last night he was still poor. The facts speak for themselves when he starts a PL game. Only 0.45pts/game when he starts as opposed to 1.65 pts/game when he doesn't. As commented above he shouldn't even be on the bench until his over inflated ego has subsided.
I thought Ralph was right last night in protecting our returning injured players who will be required for the crucial games against teams around us that are coming.
Ironic that we actually get the rub of the green with VAR when it doesn't really matter.

SaintPaulVW added 10:56 - Mar 11
I don't really like to hear opposition managers praising us as being a 'good team' when we have been thumped 5-2.

Architects of our own downfall despite playing well in the first half. Some pinpoint strikes from City but once again you fail to see any players diving in to make a last ditch block. For the first goal 4 players were stood watching Mahrez.

Why Adams is hitting a low horizontal ball across field in front of goal just escapes me.

However I half suspect that the idea behind all these changes, some quite bizarre, was to be able to write off the result, we weren't playing our first team and prepare the team for the important games to come.

Despite his clanger, Adams seems to be coming back on form. Redmond played well although tired in the second half with the yardage he was being asked to cover. Not to sure why he gets a pile on after he created the free kick that led to the first goal. We let in 5 goals, that's not really his fault is it!

Shame about Djenepo. Looked good last night.

Tella needs to start and Jack Stephens needs to get out of first gear if he is going to make it in CM.


JoeEgg added 11:22 - Mar 11
i just dont get Nick's optimism and apparent celebration of the fact that we only lost 5-2, really 6-2 if you include the crazy penalty decision! This was a strong Saints team Nick and Man City probably had a stronger team than we put out sitting on their bench! Defensive Ralph is alwasy changing things around and it seems reasonable to presume tha

JoeEgg added 11:29 - Mar 11
I just dont get Nick's optimism and apparent celebration of the fact that we only lost 5-2, really 6-2 if you include the crazy penalty decision! This was a strong Saints team Nick and Man City probably had a stronger team than our first choice team sitting on their bench! Defensively Ralph is always changing things around and it seems reasonable to presume that none of our defenders know where their team mates are coming from! It wasn't that long ago, in the last Koeman season, that we frightened the life out of many teams, even the likes of Manchester City! There is no way we should be delighted we only lost by three goals courtesy of our players who have been making the same mistakes all season!
On the positive side at times we looked a good team playing some positive and attractive football. It should not be impossible for a good coach to take this fairly strong squad and finish the season as we started it. If we cant manage that then someone else needs to be given the chance!


felly1 added 11:59 - Mar 11
I think Ralphie boy just accepted it was going to be a defeat last night and used the game to try out a few different things.
Clearly Stephens is no defensive midfielder!
I've defended him in the past but this season he has been woeful. Comfortable on the ball but so hesitant and static when we are under attack.
Fingers crossed with our strongest possible lineup against Brighton we will at least get a point and we can forget this game.

kevleykeegle added 12:09 - Mar 11
I really try to be positive despite Saints making it a difficult thing to maintain, but I have to say that the defending last night was truly awful. Mahrez is good but our central defenders made him look like Messi. Despite having two to three of our defenders in front of him when he went for goal he was able to almost casually pass the ball into the net. McCarthy never got close to stopping his shots. McCarthy does not inspire trust. He is not a commanding presence and our defenders always appear to be trying to protect him - this isn't the case with FF.

SaintNick added 12:41 - Mar 11
Some people say this wasnt a second string, no it wasnt the whole 11 out, but if everyone was fit then only Vestergaard, Bednarek, JWP Armstrong & Adams would have started plus Bertrand who was out of position, so it was half a team out.and even some of those in were third choice

Sometimes you have to look beyond the result itself, City rested some players but that is ok because they have two tough games coming up, so did we, this wasn't Ralph staring at the headlights not knowing what to do, it was calculated decisions based on making sure that that we didn't pick up injuries in areas we have little cover, that meant protecting Diallo, KWP & Minamino, it meant not exposing Forster and it means that we go into two winnable games that will change the direction the season has been going, with as fit a squad as we can muster.

Those that don't understand that would probably be the first on here whinging after Kwp & Diallo limped off injured last night and were out another few weeks and we lost fo Brighton & Bournemouth, this is the Premier League in the 21st century, the top sides have been prioritising games for years, now we are doing it people are getting stroppy.

Whatever team Ralph had picked, the individual errors were still there, but they were made by at the moment popular players, so lets still give Redmond stick, why not support him and perhaps he will play better, he wasn't great last night but he didn't get caught out at the back for the first goal, nor did he hit a suicidal cross field pass that gifted a goal. Last night he influenced the game with a run and shot that forced the corner which lead to the goal, but some will give him no credit.

codge added 13:00 - Mar 11
Well as you say Nick the only downfall is we handed them some of there goals,that just about sums it all up then.

Colburn added 13:05 - Mar 11
For a change, I will defend Nick a little bit here. I don't think the scoreline of conceding 5, was his point. The fact remains that we were the architects of our own downfall but there was so much to be positive about from that performance. We were the better team in the first half at the home of the best team in Europe and we gave them some problems. We are still a young team, learning and developing a difficult style to carry out, but one which is hard to play against or replicate. Pep can see this and can see us developing, albeit with some nightmare results along the way. It didn't quite happen for us this season, largely due to a lack of cover in 2 key positions, maybe 3 if we include LB az well as RB and CDM. What is most important is how the players feel after last night and I think last night, they will have realised that they have the ability to win the FA Cup if they put the individual errors aside for 3 games. I have been very worried recently about the togetherness but last night I saw a team showing some fight and pride. The next two games are the most important ones of the season, last night was not and it made total sense to rest KWP, Diallo, Tella and Mini as they have all had injuries recently and we need them for the next two. Surely we can take something in a long term sense from Pep's comments, he is the best manager in the world and knows more than us clowns about these things!

Colburn added 13:12 - Mar 11
And to be fair, I thought Redmond was better in the first half last night, linked up well and was braver on the ball. It is easier when you have space, his difficulty has come from playing against teams who sit, when he seems to lack ideas or to play the right pass. But he did OK last night in patches and was not the worst player out there. I still think he needs a rest and be on the bench but last night he was better. Jack doesn't deserve the stick he gets, agreed he hasn't been as good this season but he has not had a run in any position and it was a lot to ask for him to step in at CDM for the first time and at the Etihad, he also wasn't our worst player out there and he saved us having to risk the fitness of Diallo. Let's judge last night after the next two games..

Flamingbankers added 13:36 - Mar 11
Talk about contrarian. I've never heard the word 'satisfying' used to describe a 5-2 defeat. If I give you £2 and you give me £5,without any questions, that's when I'm satisfied. Saints did not get through the match unscathed because, at this moment, we need Djenepo to do a job. He has been one of the most reliable players in recent games. 'Pride' at losing 5-2 is again a strange use of vocabulary. Why are we starting the season with only 10 games to go? I thought we played 38 matches and forgive me if I'm wrong, since Saints are in the Premiership and Southampton FC are paying playing staff £60,000 a game, shouldn't they try to win every match. £60,000 to lose a game well - I could do that. Yes, football has obviously changed over the last few years but I can't say I want to watch any team not trying to win a match. If that 's the case I might as well seek to use my spare time more productively. The question is, when does the 'prioritising' stop: a 3-0 or 4-1 defeat to top half of the table teams? We got out of that one well, we lost 4-0 to Leicester - actually we probably would say that - we only lost 3-0 to West Ham. Who are those people that spoke in 'full agreement' with Nick? That's strange because the majority of the commentators here don't like being hammered 5-2. There was no bonus, we lost 5-2, didn't try to get anything from the game and had one player injured - are we satisfied? What good does a 5-2 defeat do for squad morale? I'd say it's time to constructively question Ralph's approach, he doesn't seem to have a clue some of the time and he was in tears half through the match after he'd just had a conflab with Pep. I'd say the players were confused hence the poor passing and aimless positioning. West Brom didn't give up did they?

zonehead added 14:04 - Mar 11
I agree with Nic and I’d rather lose 5-2 having a go than 3-0 like he Leeds game.Although I was a supporter of McCarthy he seems to have lost his edge and maybe it’s confidence thing not risking FF for this game. Read a stat the other day when WP is playing we have gained 27 points and only 7 when he’s been out.

zonehead added 14:04 - Mar 11
I agree with Nic and I’d rather lose 5-2 having a go than 3-0 like he Leeds game.Although I was a supporter of McCarthy he seems to have lost his edge and maybe it’s confidence thing not risking FF for this game. Read a stat the other day when WP is playing we have gained 27 points and only 7 when he’s been out.

saintmark1976 added 14:15 - Mar 11
Nick, just a small point going forward.

You are entitled to your opinion concerning the Saints just like the rest of us. However, your opinions don’t carry any more weight by remarks such as “ Those that don’t understand would probably be the first on here whinging”. Does it not occur to you that such comments may only serve to make you look mean spirited and intolerant of others who express a view opposite to your own?

People’s opinions are changed by persuasion, not by telling them that they are whingers who are incapable of understanding.

SanMarco added 14:24 - Mar 11
saintmark1976 - nail on the head. I was about to write something very similar. Nick should be proud of running a site where the comments are (nearly always) knowledgeable and reasonable. Nick whinges along with the rest of us - we are football fans, whinging is what we do.

I was genuinely surprised when this verdict called a flacid 5-2 defeat against a well-under-par City 'satisfying'. If City had have played at their best from first kick-off then sure, but there was nothing satisfing about letting in THREE goals in that first half. That is my opinion, it differs from Nick's, but if we all agreed about everything this would be a very dull site.

PS what was the 'exposure' FF needed protecting from? The opposition trying to score?

erick added 15:04 - Mar 11
Ward prowse an early contender for the POTY for saints squad. Hopefully he gets a call for the Euros . We lack quality players to finish top 7 next season at best we have five players Forster in for Gk, Kwp, Vestergaard, wardprowse, ings. Armstrong and djenepo are so inconsistent due to injuries. Ralph is looking to atleast bring in five players. Tella should be ahead of redmond hence forth, we lack a very creative Player and a Winger. In most games Ings and Che are starved of chances. Walcott and minamino should go back to their respective clubs and we should look into signing young players who can improve the team and will generate future revenue. Borja sosa or mykolenko for LB, Oliver skipp, gerson, provod, for CM, Sima, buendia, hlozek, cantwell, Berardi ✔️, for 10 and wingers. We need a right sided centre back.

davidargyll added 15:07 - Mar 11
Here we go again.
We get beaten by one of the best teams in the world and everyone goes into complete meltdown!
FFS get real, people!,
OK so we were beaten last night by a very good team. But was it a thrashing? And if if was does it matter?
My initial reaction on seeing the team selection -and I reckon this was borne out by the substitutions - was that Ralph’s tactic was to give those short of a run-out some game time thereby keeping the injuries/exhaustion factor down. At the same time the way we played had the air of “don’t worry about the result, let’s just relax, play our natural game and have some fun; the serious stuff starts at the weekend.”
And that’s how it looked to me.
Yes Armstrong didn’t cover back for the first goal, Che made an horrendous mistake to gift the second goal. And the other three were stoppable if our defence had thrown themselves more in the kind (and given away penalties as a result?).
But how many of those goals honestly would have been scored by anything other than a very good team? Certainly not all of them, and I would reckon not more than two. Yes that penalty should have been given, and ours was a bit soft, but then again Che’s goal was excellent, as was his offside one.
But away from the goals...I thought we looked a really professional, tidy and balanced side who certainly gave as good as they got and, but for three schoolboy howlers which a world-class opponent pounced on and put away, we could easily have drawn that game. And I think against lesser teams we could have easily have won.
So no it wasn’t a thrashing, more a story of one of the most expensive teams in the world against one that, admittedly, was outclassed but still put up a good fight. And No I don’t think the result did matter because we had a game plan, we stuck to it and and didn’t lie down and have them trample all over us.
In fact I ended the match with a smile on my face because, after all the horrors of the last two months, I thought yesterday’s performance was really encouraging as a result of which I am now much, much more confident of where we’ll be at the end of the season.

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