Mane treble ruins City’s warm-up for Real clash
Sadio Mane’s hat-trick ensured Manchester City will face Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final on the back of a painful 4-2 defeat at Southampton on Sunday.
Already frustrated at being forced to play this game three days before the trip to the Bernabeu when his side will attempt to build on a scoreless first leg, City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s mood will have only darkened from the moment Shane Long put Southampton on course for a resounding victory.
The loss leaves Pellegrini’s men in fourth place, four points ahead of Manchester United who have a game in hand, and while City striker Kelechi Iheanacho scored twice, there were few positives for the visitors ahead of next week’s decisive clash in Madrid.
Pellegrini, who had contrasted the authorities’ unwillingness to move the game forward with the approach taken in other countries, made eight changes to the side that faced Real at Eastlands last Tuesday, with only Joe Hart, Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho starting both games.
And the evidence of the first half suggested City’s thoughts were elsewhere, despite the need to secure their place in the top four.
Iheanacho worked hard to maintain a threat up front and the youngster’s efforts overshadowed those of Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Bony who offered little before the break.
But Pellegrini’s main concerns will be the performance of his back four, with the central defensive pairing of Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala struggling to contain Long, while left-back Aleksandar Kolarov did little to suggest he should start in the Bernabeu.
Long had already twice exposed the City backline before the home side went ahead, first when he allowed Otamendi to make a covering tackle and then again when he fired into the side-netting after getting behind Mangala.
– Superb reaction –
Long would not be denied a third time, however, when he got ahead of Otamendi to turn the ball home after being set up by Dusan Tadic in the 25th minute.
Moments before that, Southampton keeper Fraser Forster had produced a superb reaction save to keep out Sterling’s close-range effort after a rare moment of threat from the visitors.
And that scare was quickly forgotten when Mane added a second three minutes after Long’s opening goal.
City’s left was once again exposed by Tadic with the Serb’s clever reverse pass taking out Mangala and Kolarov and sending Mane clear to fire past Hart.
The margin of Southampton’s lead could have been even greater, but City clawed their way back into it a minute before the break when Iheanacho reacted well to head past Forster after Samir Nasri’s low cross was deflected into the air.
However, there were few signs City could build on that goal after the break and Southampton asserted their dominance 12 minutes after the restart when Mane hooked the ball home after Virgil van Dijk had met Steve Davis’s corner and headed against the bar.
An awkward afternoon was turning into an embarrassment for Pellegrini’s side, who looked incapable of staging a response.
So there was little surprise when Mane completed his hat-trick in the 68th minute with Tadic once again the provider after Van Dijk had dispossessed Iheanacho, releasing Mane to slide another right-footed finish beyond Hart.
Iheanacho confirmed his status as City’s most effective player when he reduced the deficit with an excellent curling shot from the edge of the area in the 78th minute, but it came too late to spark a fightback.
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