City weren’t perfect as they made harder work than they should have of beating a Southampton side which hadn’t lost away from home in the league since the final day of last season, when they were also beaten at the Etihad.
A seventh successive away game without defeat would have equalled a club top-flight record but despite a promising fightback built around Shane Long’s first league goal since August, the Saints left themselves too much to do following a wretched start in which they conceded twice in the opening 20 minutes.
And with City nipping the comeback in the bud through Aleksandar Kolarov’s 70th-minute goal to end a three-match winless run, manager Manuel Pellegrini, whose position has again been the subject of scrutiny due to the on-going uncertainty over Pep Guardiola’s plans at Bayern Munich, was happy to be back in familiar surroundings in pole position in the title race.
“Yes, very pleased, because if you asked me if I want to change my position with another English team I say ‘no’,” said the unflappable Chilean. “Not in the Premier League because we are at the top of the table. Not in the Champions League because we are the only team to qualify [for the last 16].
“And in the Capital One Cup we are the only team left in playing in the Champions League. So we don’t need to change with another team.
“We lost against Liverpool and against Juventus and maybe all of you were talking about the crisis. But we continue at the top of table and involved in the two competitions we are playing so far.”
The next of those on the agenda is a Capital One Cup quarter-final against Hull tomorrow night when David Silva may start. The midfield orchestrator returned from a nine-match injury absence with a 15-minute run-out from the bench on Saturday and hisreturn can only help City on all fronts, easing an injury list that had threatened to de-ail their multi-pronged challenge for silverware.
Pellegrini added: “We always talk about David or Kun (Aguero) or Vincent (Kompany), that are three major players, but I think not to have Samir Nasri when you don’t have David Silva is important also. Not to have Pablo Zabaleta or (Gael) Clichy during three months, Fernando for one month and a half — so many injured players. I think it’s a merit of the squad to be in the position we are in so far.”
One key player who has stayed fit is Kevin de Bruyne and the Belgium international continued his impressive start to life at City with his seventh goal in 15 appearances since signing from Wolfsburg for a club record £55m at the end of August, side-footing in a Raheem Sterling cross after Southampton full-back Maya Yoshida gifted possession in a shaky start from the visitors.
“I just feel free in my head. I’m happy and I came here in a good condition and everything felt right right away, so I will just try to maintain this level for as long as possible,” said de Bruyne. “The most important thing was we showed a good reaction after the two losses. You’re not going to win all the games in a season. It’s so hard and tough, so I’m happy we’re back winning.”
When Fabian Delph’s deflected shot, his first goal for the club, put City two up it threatened to be a long afternoon for Southampton. To their credit they didn’t buckle and after Long had headed a goal back early in the second half an equaliser looked possible.
However, Willy Caballero, playing in goal in place of the injured Joe Hart, stood firm and de Bruyne eased the tension by teeing up Kolarov to volley home and guarantee the calm-restoring victory.
Caballero 8; Sagna 6, Demichelis 6, Otamendi 7, Kolarov 7; Fernandinho 7, Delph 7 (Fernando 70, 6); De Bruyne 8, Toure 6, Sterling 6 (Silva 75); Aguero 5 (Bony 64). Substitutes: Wright, Clichy, Navas, Iheanacho.
Stekelenburg 7; Yoshida 4, Fonte 5 (Caulker 36, 6), van Dijk 6, Bertrand 6; Wanyama 6; Ward-Prowse 6 (Juanmi 77), Romeu 5 (Tadic ht, 6), Davis 7; Mane 7, Long 7. Substitutes: K Davis, Clasie, Martina, Ramirez.
Roger East 6