With Manchester City the only of those challenging for the remaining top four spots to have a game on Saturday it was down to the Citizens to pile the pressure on those around them and, albeit after a slow start, they did just that with a commanding performance at Southampton.
The first half was far from a classic with both sides cancelling each other out and the visitors aggrieved not to have had a penalty. It took until the second half for the deadlock to be broken with the returning Vincent Kompany rising high to score his first goal since August 2015.
The Belgian has been a big miss for Pep Guardiola this season, however, on just his fourth league start of the campaign the skipper got his side on the way to a vital three points in the race for the top four, his goal paving the way for Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero to make the long trip back north a cheery one for the travelling fans.
Guardiola’s men were at their hosts from the get go with top scorer Aguero spurning two early chances either side of Fraser Forster’s goal.
After the opening salvo from the Mancunians the game calmed with both sides enjoying brief spells of possession. That was until some nifty footwork from Nathan Redmond left makeshift right-back Jesus Navas in no-man’s-land and allowed the recently ordained England international to find Manolo Gabbiadini in the channel.
The returning Italian then cut back smartly to the waiting Dusan Tadic who, just as he had done at White Hart Lane in March, managed to fire a seemingly unmissable chance over the bar.
Having passed up their chance to take an early lead the Saints then had to sit back as the visitors probed their back-line for a way through, more often than not foiled by the resolute efforts of Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida.
The Citizens continued to test before a couple of strong challenges from Steven Davis and Ceric Soares brought the game back to life. With the ball back at their feet Puel’s players went looking for an opener. They nearly had it when, after an extended spell in the City half, the Saints captain flicked a header just over Claudio Bravo’s crossbar.
After a wake-up call from the men in red and white City were far less comfortable to sit in possession and looked for an opener of their own. Guardiola should have been celebrating the lead when Aguero’s deflected cross found David Silva at the far post. However, as was with Tadic’s chance earlier on, the Spaniard fluffed his lines at the vital moment at sent it into the side netting.
Seconds later and the former Barcelona boss had even more reason to be frustrated as summer signing Sane surged through the Saints defence and, as he looked to round Forster, was brought down by the England stopper. Referee Neil Swarbrick showed hesitation in pointing straight to the corner flag, of the opinion that Puel’s No. 1 had got a finger to the ball, with replays offering no help to those watching on.
Ten minutes into the second half and Guardiola could forget about those infuriating final few minutes of the first when the returning Vincent Kompany, making just his fourth Premier League start of the season, rose above his Saints counterpart Yoshida and sent his powerful header into the bottom right-hand corner from Silva’s inviting corner.
The opener prompted Puel to shuffle his pack with Shane Long and Sofiane Boufal replacing James Ward-Prowse and Manolo Gabbiadini, the latter of the changes prompting boos from the St. Mary’s faithful.
With 20 minutes to go Yoshida had the golden chance to make up for allowing Kompany to rise above him and score when he found space at the far post, only to head straight down into the hands of under-fire City stopper, Bravo.
Minutes later and the Japanese international had his head in his hands again when, having caught the Saints back line napping, Kevin De Bryune broke and squared to Sane, who calmly slotted past the helpless Forster.
The German’s goal looked the knockout blow for the southerners when minutes later De Bruyne was on hand once again and, with a clever dink from the touchline, setup Aguero to head home from a yard out.
The Sky Blues had the points in the bag and with that on came Pablo Zabaleta to shut up shop for the closing stages, although there was little to trouble the substitute as the clash came to a close.
With the title race down to just Chelsea and Tottenham, City’s 3-0 win over Claude Puel’s side takes them above Liverpool into third, with Jurgen Klopp taking his men to West Brom on Sunday.
The press wifi password on the day at St. Mary’s was ‘holiday’ and with Puel’s men seemingly joining their media team on the beach from now on, here are FIVE things we learned from their defeat to Manchester City…