There are few things more infuriating than the pace at which Southampton supporters groan their ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ song, but Aleksandar Kolarov is one of those things. The Serbian is considered a ‘hard man’ – an Eastern European thug with a missile of a left foot, covered head to toe in tattoos that represent pain, hardship and all-round solid bastardness – but his performance on Sunday afternoon was as soft as a velvet scrotum.
More enraging than Kolarov’s shithousery was watching us capitulate for the sixth time this season. Liverpool have annihilated us twice, while Leicester, Tottenham, Stoke, and now Southampton, have all had a turn at kicking us in the nads. Left battered and bruised on the sidewalk is Manchester City – a team that only picks itself up for and fights back in the Champions League.
A second string side essentially picked by the Premier League’s disregard for its team’s progress in Europe or not, the 11 that Pellegrini went for at St.Mary’s still contained 10 internationals that should have done better in this 4-2 loss – the fifth time we’ve conceded four or more goals in all competitions this season. Sadly, four of the starters yesterday simply aren’t good enough, while questions marks lay over the heads of Eliaquim Mangala, Nicolás Otamendi and Raheem Sterling.
Like a lamp to a fly, Otamendi and Mangala tease you with a couple of glowing displays only to burn and frazzle you alive. The pair’s ability to go from superb to diabolical really is impressive. As for Sterling – and I acknowledge the tremendous amount of potential the winger has – his indecisiveness is worrying. A young player such as himself should be playing with freedom and confidence, but he looks shot of both.
Those who look completely dead and buried, I hate to say, include Pablo Zabaleta. Within minutes Zaba found himself on his arse and watching on as Sadio Mané skated into the penalty area. It’s painful to watch him struggling. Kolarov, of course, is another – he was so bad yesterday that even Joe Hart had a little laugh at his expense. Fabian Delph and Wilfried Bony have also failed to convince me that they’re up to standard.
And then there’s Kelechi Iheanacho. The 19-year-old’s ability has never been in question, but there was something about the way he rose above the level of his teammates yesterday that took him from a ‘hot prospect’ to potential world-class striker. Kelechi showed a level of maturity that I don’t think we’ve seen from him so far. This was a display full of determination – a player that wanted to make things happen when others seemed resigned to defeat. The Nigerian is an expert finisher and his two goals in this game showcased how deadly and how consistent he is in front of goal. On this season’s evidence, I’d say Kelechi, who now boasts the Premier League’s best minutes-per-goal record with a goal every 86 minutes, is a more exciting prospect than Sterling.
But before Iheanacho could even bag his first, Southampton were cruising. Unbeaten in their last three league fixtures and looking good in their pursuit of European football, Koeman’s side took advantage of our sloppiness in the middle. A heavy duty Land Rover in Europe, Fernandinho was more of a Renault Clio in this one and conceded possession on too many occasions. Playing next to him, Delph was equally as poor.
This was as appalling as it had been all season for us, but we could have gone ahead through some nice work from Iheanacho. His cross saw Sterling come face to face with Forste who saved his fellow Englishman’s tame effort with ease. Raheem’s finishing has been criticised in the past and it’s easy to see why. This is an area of his game he must improve.
Moments later, we were punished. Running onto an excellent floated pass from Martina, Dušan Tadić found Shane Long unmarked in the penalty area with a lofted cross from the right. Beating Otamendi to the ball proved to be no problem for the Irishman who netted his 10th of the season. Kolarov, still casually making his way back from our attack, arrived on the scene about five minutes later like a dog chasing his owner after a lengthy piss. The host’s made it two shortly after when Mané skipped through on goal and slotted past Hart – Tadić, comfortably the best Serbian on the pitch, the provider again.
A goal was so undeserved for us, yet so deserved for Kelechi who looked keen to resuscitate his peers. Driving at Southampton’s back line, the academy graduate fed in Samir Nasri out wide and converted his deflected cross with a well-directed header into the bottom corner. No player in the 18-yard-box wanted that loose ball more than Kelechi and going into the break, we had a lifeline.
This is when Pellegrini should have made a substitution, you know, considering finishing in the top four is pretty important, and all. Kevin De Bruyne was left out of the squad entirely, but Sergio Agüero was among the couple on the bench that could have made a difference. Pellegrini seemed to toy with the idea for a while as Sergio frolicked on the sidelines in his bib, but opted against it once he saw Bony actually find his man with one of his only touches of the game. This promising moment was swiftly shat on, however, as Mané netted his second and Southampton’s third, tapping in after Van Dijk’s header crashed against the bar. Kolarov should have been first to react, but perhaps that would have been too much to ask.
And the Senegalese international completed his hat-trick in the 68th minute as Tadić cut through a central midfield containing Martin Demichelis and Samir Nasri to put in his mate. We’ve proven this season that once we’re down, we’re out.
There was still time, though, for the best goal of the game. Collecting the ball and finding space for himself on the edge of the box, Iheanacho curled an exquisite effort into the top corner of Forster’s goal. 4-2 down but still on his knees and pointing to the skies, the youngster thanked the Gods for this one.
Southampton may have some irritating chants, but no one had much to say about the one they directed at us at the end of yesterday’s game. “You’re f***ing shit,” they bellowed, and they were right. We were f***ing shit, we have been all season, and we must be much better on Wednesday night.