City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Lescott, Clichy, Rodwell, Y Toure, Silva (Balotelli 72), Nasri, Aguero (Dzeko 14), Tevez (Kolarov 87)
Unused: Pantilimon, Savic, de Jong, Milner
Goals: Tevez (41), Dzeko (72), Nasri (80)
Referee: Howard Webb
Man of the Match: Samir Nasri
City’s defence of their title began on the ground where the league was won, as another newly promoted side visited The Etihad. Southampton, with nothing to lose, started on the backfoot, as the hosts controlled the early possession. The chances, though, were slow in coming and soon it was going to be more difficult for the blues: Sergio Aguero was left clutching his knee following a tangle with Clyne. He couldn’t carry on and was stretchered down the tunnel.
A neat turn in the box from Tevez, though, quickly gave the home side the perfect chance to get in front. He was tripped and the referee pointed to the spot. David Silva put the ball down, but his penalty kick was awful; it dribbled straight back to the goalkeeper, who had gone the right way and was able to block the shot.
The chances remained few and far between. Tevez poked an effort straight at Davis when he was surrounded by visiting shirts on the edge of the box, before Zabaleta was harshly penalised for handball, though the free-kick from Southampton came to nothing.
With five minutes to play until half time, the home side pulled themselves in front. Tevez was just onside from a ball over the top and he smashed his effort on a one-on-one first time, on the half-volley, at Davis’s near post. It beat the goalkeeper and City were in front with four minutes of the half to play.
The blues stepped it up a gear early in the second half. Dzeko should have done better when he connected to Nasri’s cross, but his header flashed wide of the mark. Clichy found himself as the furthest man forward shortly after and, as he was picked out by Yaya Toure, he could only guide his shot over the bar. Silva then missed another good opportunity as the ball broke to him; his volley clipped the bar and dropped into the North Stand.
Somewhat against the run of play, Lambert pulled the visitors level. Southampton capitalised on some poor defending from the home side – who just couldn’t get the ball away – and, from just inside the box, the Saints’ striker guided the shot into the bottom corner, leaving Joe Hart with no chance.
And, on 68 minutes, it got worse. Debutant Jack Rodwell didn’t get enough weight on his pass to Silva following a cleared corner and Southampton intercepted. They broke quickly and, after exchanging passes with Lallana, Davis curled the ball into the bottom corner. From cruising at 1-0, City were now 1-2 behind.
Four minutes later, though, City were on terms. A corner was cleared to Kompany on the edge of the box and the Belgian smashed a shot at goal. It was blocked by Yaya Toure and he tried to get a shot of his own in, but the ball squirmed out to Dzeko. With the goalkeeper stranded, he wasn’t going to miss and he got the home side on terms.
A minute later, City should have been back in front. A decisive breakaway saw Yaya Toure burst forward with possession, before slipping the ball on to Nasri. He played a low ball into the box, just ahead of Dzeko, but it looked perfect for Balotelli. The Italian, though, hit the side netting.
With just under ten minutes to play, though, City were back in the lead. A poor header out of defence fell kindly for Nasri inside the box. The man of the match needed no second invitation and he smashed the ball into the top corner of the net.
It was a nervous final few minutes for City, who were under more pressure than in most games last season. It will take a much better performance next weekend if the blues are to get something from their trip to Anfield.