Saints came away with nothing from their first game back in the Premier League, but put forth a valiant effort. Nigel Adkins' men came from behind to take a 2-1 lead in the 2nd half, but couldn't hold on, with City's class shining through.
Saints lined up with a 4231 formation, with Morgan Schneiderlin and James Ward-Prowse acting as the double pivot in front of the back four. Jay Rodriguez and Jason Puncheon played out wide, while Adam Lallana oscillated between the middle and the left. Adkins surprisingly left Rickie Lambert and Billy Sharp on the bench, with Guly acting as the lone front man. The decision to go with Guly was likely for a couple of reasons. His defensive capabilities and technique made him an ideal choice for the role.
Saints weren't overawed by City in the first 10 minutes and enjoyed a decent spell of possession. They had the ball in the hosts' half for much of that time, but failed to trouble Joe Hart. The visitors attacked down the flanks, but could only manage a few long range efforts. Whenever City broke Saints got 10 men behind the ball, with only Guly remaining forward. The home side had the physical edge, and gradually took control following a slow start. On 15 minutes Jos Hooivled clipped Carlos Tevez in the box. David Silva's pathetically tame penalty was easily saved by Kelvin Davis. City were on top for the rest of the half, but Saints did well to limit their chances. Every time their players got in dangerous positions, they would be swarmed by red shirts. Whenever Saints got the ball, they looked to play out patiently.
On 32 minutes Carlos Tevez made space for himself, but poked his shot straight at Davis. At the other end Saints had a few set pieces, but did absolutely nothing with them. The visitors also had a few opportunities to hit City on the break, but lacked the pace or inventiveness to capitalise. The home side opened the scoring on 40 minutes. Tevez was put through on goal by Samir Nasri, who chipped the ball over the Southampton back four. The Argentinian then smashed the ball past Davis at the near post. City dominated after that and could have gone into the break further ahead. They had a frantic goal mouth scramble cleared away by Hooiveld, before Yaya Toure knocked a shot wide.
Saints looked good in the first few minutes of the second half, but City soon took over. They bombarded the visitors' goal with a series of efforts. Substitute Edin Dzeko missed a sitter on 48. Gael Clichy blasted his shot over from close range, before Silva hit the bar inside the area. Adkins then brought on Rickie Lambert for Jay Rodriguez, and took a much more positive approach to the game. Saints were rewarded with an equaliser on 59 minutes. The ball bobbled on the edge of the box between Guly and Ward-Prowse, before Lambert guided a side footed shot into the corner of the net. On 67 minutes things got even better for Saints. Adam Lallana brilliantly countered from a Man City corner, marauding forward down the left. The ball eventually found its way to Steven Davis, who smashed the ball past Joe Hart to make it 2-1.
City regained control not long after that, and were level within the next five minutes. Saints failed to clear a corner before Edin Dzeko nipped in to score from close range. Moments later Puncheon made a great run forward, and nearly created an excellent opening for himself, only for the move to break down. Yaya Toure then made a powerful run through the middle of the pitch, before feeding Mario Balotelli, who hit the side-netting. City scored the inevitable winner on 80 minutes. Samir Nasri blasted into the top corner from the edge of the area. Saints had City sweating for the final 10 minutes or so, and created some good chances. The best came from Jose Fonte, who fired over inside the area. The away side battled bravely until the end, but ultimately came away with nothing.
Saints may have lost in dramatic fashion, but they should still be proud of the way they played. All 14 men played to their absolute maximum and come away with great credit. We were well organised and limited City for large periods, but also gave them a scare at the other end. Saints' movement was superb, particularly in the second half. We never strayed from our passing philosophy and created a number of chances against one of the most formidable defences in Europe. Saints are unlikely to face a tougher fixture all season, and if we keep that level of performance up, we're in for a good campaign. Make no mistake, these are great times. This team is in fine shape and will only get better.
Davis: 7. A penalty save, but might be slightly disappointed with his positioning for the first goal. Kept the game in the balance with some good 2nd half saves.
Clyne: 8. Another classy performance. My early tip to win player of the season
Fonte: 8. A first class defensive display. Timing and positioning superb.
Hooiveld: 8. Gave away the penalty, but otherwise superb. Threw his body in front of everything
Fox: 7. Was always going to be tough against the likes of Silva and Nasri, but on the whole did well. Partially at fault for the third goal perhaps, but did well going forward
Schneiderlin: 8. Saints' best player in the first half, with some great interceptions and cross field passes. A few minor errors after the break, but overall superb
Ward-Prowse: 7. Played with maturity beyond his years. Looked very tidy in midfield. Ran out of steam slightly, before he came off
Puncheon: 7. Had to spend more time than he would have liked defending, but worked very hard throughout
Lallana: 8. Latched on to many loose balls and looked threatening going forward
Rodriguez: 7. Best showing on the left so far. Looked far more comfortable there, showcasing some decent touches
Guly: 8. Worked hard in the first half, but didn't have much of a chance with the ball at the other end of the pitch. Great link up play and movement in the second half
Lambert: 8. Changed the game, and scored a great goal
Davis: 8. Made a great impact and added plenty of energy to the Saints midfield
Sharp: 7. Looked dangerous, drifting out wide and providing some decent crosses