The good news for Southampton is this game is behind them. The bad news is they have to come back to the Etihad Stadium in three days’ time, when Pep Guardiola will doubtless wheel out his big guns.
Having been obliterated 9-0 by Leicester City last Friday, the memory of that calamity must have been firmly in Southampton minds when Manchester City plundered their third goal with 34 minutes still left to play.
At that stage, no one would have been surprised if this had turned into another hammering so, in that respect, Ralph Hasenhüttl was pleased with how his Southampton players rallied, weathered the storm and pulled a goal back through Jack Stephens.
It will certainly offer them some crumbs of comfort ahead of their return here in the Premier League, even if the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva will be back in the champions’ line-up then.
Southampton will also probably have to contend again with Sergio Agüero, who, after watching fellow Argentinian Nicolas Otamendi open the scoring, plundered his 242nd and 243rd goals for City on his 350th appearance for the club, the equivalent of a goal every 1.44 games. To put that into some context, Thierry Henry averaged a goal every 1.64 games for Arsenal and Alan Shearer, the Premier League’s all-time top scorer, one every 1.71 for Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United.
Hasenhüttl admitted he had feared the worst when Agüero claimed his second but, by the end, was both pleased and relieved by the reaction of his players. So how was he feeling? “Better than Friday, I must say,” the Southampton manager said, mustering a smile.
“To come here and play against one of the strongest sides on the planet after a very difficult night on Friday, you can think of easier challenges.
“We were very passive in the first half, it was not our way to play but it was understandable after the last game.
“In the second half you could see we got a bit more self confidence, pressed a bit higher, had more calmness on the ball and showed we can play. It was important we showed a reaction from the last game. This was the main goal.”
City’s last defeat in the League Cup came three years and three days ago and the early exchanges of this game were played out against a backdrop of home supporters singing “We want 10. That never materialised but Southampton certainly set up like a team hoping to avoid another rout, adopting a blanket defence and abandoning any attacking intention until the final half hour when they could have crumbled but instead began to ask some questions of their opponents. Claudio Bravo, the City goalkeeper, was forced to make good saves to deny Sofiane Boufal and Stephens and no one could say a goal had not been coming when Stephens headed home James Ward-Prowse’s corner.
In the main, though, this was a stress-free night for City, one in which Guardiola felt comfortable enough to hand 18-year-old Tommy Doyle his debut. There has been a buzz around Doyle for some time and not only because his paternal and maternal grandfathers – Mike Doyle and Glyn Pardoe – are revered former City players. Doyle impressed on City’s pre-season tour of Asia and the youngster from Sandbach did not look out of place at the base of the midfield, even if that is not his usual position. Doyle’s game is modelled more on the former Liverpool and England captain, Steven Gerrard, but, with Rodri injured and Guardiola keen to rest Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan, the teenager took his chance well.
“Tommy played so good in his first game in not his natural position as a holding midfielder – he normally plays further in front,” Guardiola said. “I didn’t have another alternative honestly but he was with us in pre-season and I didn’t have any doubts.”
As low on confidence as Southampton may have been, Hasenhuttl’s disappointment with the first goal his side conceded was understandable. Angelino was allowed to deliver a cross too easily and there was not much in the way of a challenge from Jan Bednarek or Oriol Romeu on Otamendi, who muscled in between the pair to head home.
City’s second was different, the ball switched at pace from left to right via Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva before Riyad Mahrez played in the overlapping Kyle Walker, who pulled the ball back from the by-line for Agüero to steer home a volley.
Southampton were indebted to their goalkeeper, Alex McCarthy, for shutting out Foden, Mahrez and Bernardo before Agüuero grabbed his second, tapping home a deflected Mahrez shot. It could have got ugly from there but Southampton dug in. There is still the second visit to come, though.