Any team that wishes to be Premier League champions needs to show more than just sustained periods of top-class ability and the capacity to steamroller sides with smooth passing and clever movement. They require the existence of profound and unbreakable spirit. With Southampton seconds away from matching last season’s Etihad draw, City pulled out yet another late winner to show their mettle. When the chips are down they can still do it, which must have come as a huge dampener to the chasing pack.
Guts and grit and perseverance for the third game running. Another difficult home game was won in absolute extremis by the unshakeable class of Raheem Sterling’s new-found clinical finishing. In truth, this was the poorest City have been all season, but they nicked it through unquenchable spirit.
Every dead-ball delivery seemed to cause mayhem at the back, including Oriol Romeu’s neatly-worked but poorly-defended equaliser. Problems from inswinging corners had already proved a problem at Huddersfield and here was a continuation of the issue.
Manager rating out of 10
7 — Pep Guardiola chose a risky path, with Vincent Kompany taking to the field for the second time in four days and Ilkay Gundogan sitting in the creative berth alongside Kevin De Bruyne. Neither had a happy time of it and the manager was forced to bring on the missing links late on to pull the result out of the fire.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Ederson, 8 — One of his busiest games so far saw him gathering high balls cleanly, sweeping up when Southampton broke through and reacting quickly and incisively when Fabian Delph’s backpass fell short. Ederson controlled one high through ball on his instep like a midfield playmaker.
DF Kyle Walker, 6 — Only started motoring down the right wing in the 88th minute, when desperation was setting in. Bypassed by much of the play early on as City chose to attack down the left for much of the night.
DF Vincent Kompany, 6 — A difficult night for the captain, who was penalised three times in his early attempts to control Nathan Redmond and Shane Long’s thrusts. Kompany was also nutmegged by Mario Lamina as Southampton came close after 33 minutes and booked for blocking Long’s run through the inside channel.
DF Nicolas Otamendi, 8 — The best defender on show. Brave and always trying to bound forward and find the incisive ball into the box. Was competing with Virgil van Dijk to be on the end of De Bruyne’s ball in for the opening goal and never gave up a seemingly lost cause.
DF Fabian Delph, 7 — Made a lively start but was nowhere near Van Dijk when the Southampton defender set up Maya Yoshida for a presentable first-half chance. Delph was well beaten by Sofiane Boufal’s piece of skill for the equaliser.
MF Fernandinho, 6 — Had a real battle to impose himself with Romeu playing so strongly. Took three shots from a variety of distances but was less effective than usual in his defensive duties.
MF Kevin De Bruyne, 7 —Too many passes went astray, but stuck at it and still provided some of the game’s best touches. Nice touch to set up a chance for Ilkay Gundogan and a stinger of a right footer well saved by Fraser Forster.
MF Ilkay Gindogan, 6 — After a busy start, became increasingly ineffective in a clogged up midfield. Unconvincing and unadventurous in his attempts to find the killer pass and often crowded out. Replaced by Bernardo Silva after 80 minutes.
MF Raheem Sterling, 8 — Increasingly influential with a stream of late winners. That’s now three games in a row and a total of four scored after the 84th minute this season. This was the best of the lot, with incredible vision and accuracy in a moment of complete desperation.
FW Sergio Aguero, 6 — Had very little space to operate in and was well shackled by the excellent Van Dijk, Yoshida and Wesley Hoedt.
FW Gabriel Jesus, 6 — Did not look comfortable as the left side of a front three, but stuck at it and would have scored but for an athletic leap by Forster.
MF David Silva, NR — Replaced Jesus on 74 minutes and immediately brought vision and thrust . Offered a whole new dimension to the way the ball arrived in the box.
MF Bernardo Silva, NR — On for Gundogan after 80 minutes to give a boost to the right flank. This was a fine cameo with several dangerous balls into the box.
Simon is one of ESPN FC’s Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.