City win but left to wait on Aguero
Nostalgia is a growth industry and Manchester City are eager entrepreneurs. They will never have another day like May 13, 2012, but they did their best to stage a re-enactment of the historic victory against Queens Park Rangers.
Just as they won a title, City began their defence of it. The scoreline, 3-2, was the same, along with the way City lost a lead to trail against promoted opposition, whether QPR or Southampton. Then as now, they lost a talisman to injury, with Yaya Toure limping off on the final afternoon of last season and Sergio Aguero stretchered off in the first game of this. Once again, Edin Dzeko was the catalyst for the comeback, scoring another equaliser before a slight, dark-haired figure turned match-winner.
Samir Nasri took on Aguero's mantle, bobbling a shot past Kelvin Davis, the Frenchman bringing a hint of déjà vu to proceedings. The nouveau riche are the new comeback kings, City contriving to complete a hat-trick of 3-2 wins, including the Community Shield. Little more than a year after they seemed footballing puritans, City have become addicted to excitement. A side assembled with oil money have become powered by adrenalin.
Their identity is evolving at the speed of Carlos Tevez in full flight. Fitter, happier, more productive, the pariah is now pivotal, the exile excelling. He has gone from "finished" in Roberto Mancini's words, to finisher. He broke the deadlock after the other Argentine had made an early exit.
Throughout the year they have been colleagues, there has been a contrast between compatriots, the smiling Aguero and the sulking Tevez; now it was stretchered-off Aguero and the sprinting Tevez, who accelerated on to Nasri's pass to score. "Somebody said it was offside," said Southampton manager Nigel Adkins, but Tevez now has two goals in as many games.
His strike partner only had a few minutes to bask in the adulation of the Etihad Stadium crowd. It is rare that a player is carried off to a standing ovation but debut campaigns like Aguero's are unusual indeed, moments like the one he provided in the 94th minute on May 13 still more scarce. If Southampton can testify to the essential cruelty of football, after their fightback was in vain, so can Aguero. Challenged legally by Nathaniel Clyne, the Argentine ended up in agony. "An injury to the knee is always dangerous and I am worried," said Mancini. "We need to wait for maybe two days for a scan."
Yet his departure was not a merciful release for Saints. "Our defenders have just played against the best forward line they have ever played against in their careers," Adkins said. Jose Fonte was in League One 18 months ago, and Tevez fooled him when he scored. Jos Hooiveld was turning one way as Tevez spun the other to win a spot kick that David Silva, rather tamely, sidefooted at Kelvin Davis. "A good penalty," said Mancini, the eventual outcome allowing him to joke.
His sense of humour may have been camouflaged when, after Silva struck the bar and Dzeko and Gael Clichy spurned simple chances, the refugees from the third flight threatened to add an extraordinary chapter to the story of their rapid rise. City had only dropped two points at home last season, but they trailed to Saints.
Adkins seemed to possess the managerial midas touch. His first substitute scored 226 seconds after his arrival, his next 143 seconds into his Saints career. Both Rickie Lambert and Steven Davis finished superbly, the latter capping a swift counter-attack after the City debutant, Jack Rodwell, passed straight to Adam Lallana. Adkins favours an enterprising, attacking approach and it almost paid dividends. "We wanted to give ourselves an opportunity to win the game," he said. "That's what it is all about."
But City can be cavalier too. After a Mario Balotelli miss, Dzeko converted from close range. After the Bosnian missed the target, Nasri did not. It was a winning, thrilling start but the consequences could be considerable. Mancini admitted City may have to rethink their plans in the transfer market - though that won't extend to giving Emmanuel Adebayor another chance - because while they have secured three points, they may have lost two strikers in the space of a week, with Robin van Persie joining Manchester United and Aguero added to the disabled list.
When history repeats itself, Karl Marx said, it is first as tragedy. If Aguero's injury proves serious, the super-rich may find themselves agreeing with the creator of communism.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Samir Nasri - The Frenchman continued his early-season excellence. "Samir should play always like he did today and against Chelsea," Mancini said. Inventive and involved, he was a threat from start to finish.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: The defending may be a concern to Mancini. For the second successive week, City conceded twice. The second goal was Rodwell's fault, marring an otherwise assured display, though the manager praised the newcomer. He was preferred to Nigel de Jong and Mancini denied that means the Dutchman will join Inter. The positive was that City created a host of chances.
SOUTHAMPTON VERDICT: Encouraging in attack, perhaps worrying at the back. Saints' spirit was superb and they should score enough goals. That Lambert, scorer of 88 goals in three years, began on the bench was harsh, but Adkins claimed he wanted the extra pace of Guly do Prado. Another surprise selection was 17-year-old James Ward-Prowse, who played with great assurance on his league debut in midfield and who had a part in the opening goal. Yet the suspicion is that centre-backs Hooiveld and Fonte are not Premier League quality and Saints seem focused on the forward line in their attempts to strengthen further.