Manchester City Home Lost 1 – 4
Still no Adams to face Manchester City, and after Mara’s less than effective display last time out, manager Sellés named just Walcott and Sulemana as his forward players. Those two played out wide, leaving Alcaraz and Elyounoussi in the middle, but in front of Lavia and Ward-Prowse, so with licence to get forward when possible. It was innovative and may have been effective against a team that could have been more easily exposed, and it nevertheless helped Saints remain competitive in a first half where they always seemed to be improving. Grealish had the first real chance and was denied by a Bazunu save, but the next truly expected goal was created, and missed, by Sulemana. This came when the winger led a break out from deep defence and found himself faced by just Ake in centre field; rather oddly, he seemed to hesitate before turning on the afterburners, but when now only faced by Ederson, a heavy touch meant the opportunity was wasted. Then, with the first half running out, Sulemana fired wide from another presentable chance (albeit one that failed to make the Match of the Day edit). Unfortunately there was still time for City to turn around ahead thanks to Grealish crossing for Haaland to head in from close range; Bella-Kotchap’s complaints about a shirt pull seemed very optimistic, and not since Andy Carroll was in his prime has there been a more physical Premier League attacker than Haaland. Plan A wasn’t exhausted yet, but was important not to let City get further ahead. Sadly they did just that, with Grealish foiled again by Bazunu but hitting home the rebound first time. There was a short delay for VAR to check for offside, but Maitland-Niles, deployed at right back, never got very close to his man during the whole game and didn’t manage to force an offside either. Stuart Armstrong came on, still within plan A, but could only look on with awe like the rest of us when Haaland put his side further ahead with a scissors kick volley: we really didn’t need that. Time for plan B with both Djnepo and Mara introduced, and with immediate effect as Djnepo shrugged off tackles before having the wherewithal to set up Mara for a goal that made the scoreline respectable, and, in theory at least, still plenty of time to save the game. It didn’t work out either way, not after De Bruyne got between Bednarek and Walker-Peters, forcing a penalty, converted by Alvarez: a World Cup winner, on for Haaland – such luxury! Now the end couldn’t come soon enough for weary Saints players and fans; fortunately City happily played the ball around amongst themselves, no doubt with one eye now on upcoming European competition.
Three LSSC Man of the Match candidates to choose from:
24. Mohammed Elyounoussi. No, he’s not going to get any votes, and only played 61 minutes, but I thought he was pretty effective (and it makes a change from naming Lavia again).
31. Gavin Bazunu. A handful of good saves, and helped by his decent distribution.
35. Jan Bednarek. A good job he seems up for a battle… unlike some of his colleagues, dare I say?