MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City’s 21-game winning run started against Southampton in December and after defeat to rivals Manchester United on Sunday, they started a new streak against the same opposition with a 5-2 win at the Etihad Stadium.
Pep Guardiola’s side won’t need to win another 20 games to lift the Premier League title. With their lead over United back up to 14 points, another six victories should do it.
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Guardiola is still warning his team that a collapse at this stage could yet happen but it would take something catastrophic for City not to be crowned champions in May.
What is less clear-cut is whether the Champions League trophy will sit alongside it and Guardiola will want his players to cut out the errors he saw against Southampton if he hopes to see his side reach the final in Istanbul on May 29.
“The first 20 or 25 minutes, they were the best team we’ve faced here,” said Guardiola.
“Only respect and admiration for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team. We suffered a lot to control them. They were brilliant. Second half much better, we used holding midfielders and were more patient.
“Against West Ham, we had a throw and it ended with a goal. Same on Sunday against United. Kyle [Walker] made an incorrect action and it was a corner and then a penalty [against Southampton]. Like Gabriel [Jesus] [against United]. Improve this or we cannot win the knock-out competitions.
“Our first goal we conceded we gave them and hopefully we can learn for knock-out games. If not we’ll be out.”
Guardiola has never lost back-to-back home games as a manager, and after the derby disappointment, he was not about to start with the Premier League trophy in sight. Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez both scored twice and Ilkay Gundogan added to his impressive tally of 12 league goals this season as City got back on track. That said, it was not an evening without the odd scare.
Southampton were the better team until the first goal went in after 15 minutes and were level at 1-1 for most of the first half thanks to James Ward-Prowse’s penalty. Che Adams briefly threatened to make a game of it by making it 4-2 after 56 minutes but Southampton’s last sniff was ended by De Bruyne’s second of the night three minutes later.
The scoreline might have been more comfortable had referee Jon Moss and VAR Andrew Madley not inexplicably decided Alex McCarthy’s scything challenge on Phil Foden was not worthy of a penalty. “It is just incredible that penalty was not given,” said Guardiola.
“We won 5-2 but at the time it was 1-1. One day they are going to explain why. I do not understand it. It’s incredible that in four-and-a-half-years we have won everything ourselves. No one has given us anything. The penalty, oh my god.”
Aside from the refereeing decisions, what will worry Guardiola is the ease with which Southampton got close to their goal and Hasenhuttl will feel his team should have done better with their 11 shots and six on target.
After going more than three months without conceding two goals in a game, City have now done it twice in four days. They are still comfortably the league’s best defence but it’s suddenly four games without a clean sheet. They have also scored more than anyone else and passed 60 league goals for the season thanks to some wonderful attacking football.
If City are going to end the season with more than the title then De Bruyne, their best player, will have a large part to play and it was reassuring for Guardiola to see the Belgian score his first Premier League goals since January, particularly after an uncharacteristically sloppy display against United.
“They made us suffer at times. In general, it was good. Another victory and we move on to Fulham,” said Guardiola.
“Southampton put a lot of players in the middle and made it very hard for us. They expose a lot which allowed us to counter. The quality of our players won the game — Riyad, Kevin, and Phil [Foden].
“It’s important for Kevin and Riyad to score goals. We need them. Now it’s rest and then Fulham. It’s one game at a time. There are nine games left. Games like today are so difficult and so tough.
“We won because of the quality of the players we had on the pitch.”
The talent in City’s squad, particularly the likes of De Bruyne and Mahrez, means they will almost certainly win the title but they will have to heed Guardiola’s advice and cut out the mistakes if they want to add the Champions League as well.