Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez have netted twice each as Manchester City returned to winning ways with a raucous 5-2 Premier League victory over Southampton at the Etihad Stadium.
Pep Guardiola’s men had a 21-match winning run in all competitions ended by Manchester United at the weekend, and some of the defensive problems from that 2-0 defeat remained as James Ward-Prowse scored a first-half equaliser from the penalty spot and Che Adams was on target before the hour.
However, an unexpectedly open contest worked in De Bruyne and Mahrez’s favour, while Ilkay Guendogan chipped in with his 14th goal of the season in first half stoppage time.
City are 14 points clear of United at the summit having played a game more, while Southamption are 13th – seven points clear of the drop zone.
Guardiola was able to give striker Sergio Aguero game time for only the third time since January 3 while the Saints’ teenage midfielder Caleb Watts – on the verge of a Socceroos call-up – came on at the same time as City’s Argentine ace.
League leaders City started poorly but scored from their first attack of note in the 15th minute – De Bruyne making sure on the goal-line after clattering the crossbar when Alex McCarthy parried Phil Foden’s shot into his path.
Southampton were undeterred, with Ederson tipping Nathan Redmond’s low strike behind and denying Jannik Vestergaard from the resulting corner.
Unfortunately for the City goalkeeper, Aymeric Laporte pulled back Vestergaard when trying to deal with the loose ball the latter save and Ward-Prowse made no mistake from the spot.
City were contentiously denied a penalty with the score 1-1 in the first half after Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy was adjudged not to have fouled Phil Foden and VAR did not overrule.
Guardiola could not understand why Foden was not awarded a penalty.
“It is just incredible that penalty was not given. One day they are going to explain why. I do not understand it,” he told BBC Sport.
A quickfire double from Guardiola’s side undid all of Saints’ good work – Mahrez snaffling a shocking pass from Adams to curl in a wonderful finish before Gundogan poached their third after the Algeria winger’s shot hit the post.
McCarthy saw enough of a Foden drive through a throng of bodies to save five minutes into the second half but he had no chance when Mahrez shimmied to engineer room and thump home with his trusty left foot.
A pattern of ricochets falling pleasingly for attackers continued as Adams reduced the arrears but, following another McCarthy stop to frustrate Foden, the England midfielder laid off for De Bruyne to storm into the Saints box and rifle into the bottom corner.