Frank Lampard says farewell as Manchester City finish in second
MANCHESTER -- Three quick thoughts from Manchester City's 2-0 victory over Southampton at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
City end season on a high
Manchester City tend to finish seasons strongly -- they have ended this one top of the form table with six straight victories. They won their last six games in 2012 and their final five last season. The difference is that those runs brought the title to the Etihad. This secured second place but was in essence an exercise in damage limitation. It seems to have saved Manuel Pellegrini's job, for starters, and while this cannot be classed as a particularly pleasing season, talk of crisis has dissipated of late.
Pellegrini likes to deem his side the most attack-minded in the country and can take solace in the fact that they end the campaign as the division's top scorers. Sergio Aguero was the most prolific player, too, and eventually added his 26th Premier League strike in their win over Southampton. The reality, though, is that City will lose some goals from their team this summer. The question is how many.
Their other scorer, Frank Lampard, is certain to go. Yaya Toure exited to deafening applause, and whatever the rows of the last 12 months, his achievements in the previous four years mean his name is etched into City folklore. There was little in the Ivorian's body language to suggest he is off -- unlike Carlos Tevez at the equivalent stage two years ago -- but his agent, Dimitri Seluk, has said he is "90 percent certain" to go.
The sounds from the stands indicated that the City public want to see more of Toure and James Milner alike. "We want you to stay," was the message directed at the out-of-contract Englishman, who has been given a still more lucrative contract offer this week. And when he went off, clapping to all four stands, it felt rather more like a wave goodbye.
Saints still dream of Europe
Ronald Koeman belongs in the group of managerial optimists who relish the prospect of Europa League participation. As his side ended up in the seventh spot, he will have to wait a further six days to discover whether he is the first Southampton manager since 1985 to take them into Europe as a result of their league finish. Southampton qualified as FA Cup runners-up in 2003, and if Arsenal win at Wembley next week, they will be in continental competition again next season. It would rank as a feather in the cap for Koeman, not to mention a club that was in League One as recently as 2011.
Kelvin Davis is a survivor of those days and was recalled for his 300th Saints game. While the veteran is not expected to leave, it could prove his last, with Koeman admitting he is considering signing another keeper in the summer. Davis showed signs of fallibility by fumbling a Toure shot straight to Aguero, but redeemed himself by stopping the Argentine's subsequent effort. He made a second superb save from the Golden Boot winner when David Silva sent Aguero scurrying clear. He had to excel to spare defender Toby Alderweireld an own goal. It amounted to a fine effort to persuade Koeman he can deputise until Fraser Forster is fit again.
While Jay Rodriguez is on the comeback trail, his return has been postponed until next season. With the forward signing a new contract, Southampton have few reasons to worry about his future whereas Nathaniel Clyne, whose deal expires in 2016, may have played his last game. So, too, the on-loan pair of Alderweireld and Filip Djuricic. The centre-back will be missed, the midfielder rather less so.
Some goodbyes are quieter than others. Lampard's exit from the Premier League has been overshadowed by the farewells to Steven Gerrard, the other major export to Major League Soccer. That was perhaps understandable as Lampard's time at City lasted only nine months, compared to his adversary-turned-ally's quarter of a century at Anfield, and as this result was less spectacular than the 6-1 score line from Stoke, Lampard was shunted out of the limelight again.
Yet he found the most appropriate way of all to take his leave: by scoring. After a 20-game goal drought, the most potent midfielder of his generation found the net for the 259th time in English and Welsh club football. He ranks as the Premier League's fourth-highest scorer ever and his 177th and last was typical, Lampard timing his arrival into the penalty box perfectly to stab in Silva's cross.
Such superb statistics amount to proof of a lifetime's fine work. It is almost 20 years since Lampard's first-team debut, on loan at Swansea, and this was his 885th senior game in club football. While Chelsea's record goal scorer is indelibly associated with the Londoners, he has made a mark in Manchester.
Pellegrini has been impressed by Lampard's professionalism and character and it was no surprise he was granted the captaincy on his valedictory appearance, even if it deprived Toure of the armband for what may prove his final competitive outing in a City shirt. This was the time for City to pay their tribute and, in the programme and in the stands, they did.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.