What is the best way to recover from a 9-0 top-flight home defeat, the biggest in the 131-year history of the Football League? Not with two consecutive trips to play Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, you imagine. Southampton found themselves in that unenviable position at the start of the night. At its end, they were probably relieved to only lose 3-1.
It is three years and three days since City last suffered a defeat in this competition and, given how seriously Guardiola appears to take the EFL Cup, few would bet against a fifth triumph in seven years come February. Even if Southampton had been in any sort of form, victory and progress to the quarter-finals would always be a tall order.
A Nicolas Otamendi header and a Sergio Aguero brace secured City’s place in Wednesday night’s last-eight draw. On a night which largely saw the holders camped in Southampton’s half, they could and perhaps should have scored more. Instead, Jack Stephens was allowed to reduce the deficit.
Ralph Hasenhuttl, the under-fire Southampton manager, made six changes from Friday’s extraordinary reverse against Leicester City, with just two members of their five-man defence that night retained. Unsurprisingly, the former City goalkeeper Angus Gunn was among those sacrificed.
Guardiola, meanwhile, handed a debut to Tommy Doyle, a highly-rated 18-year-old midfielder with sky blue blood. One of his grandfathers, Glyn Pardoe, remains the youngest player to represent the club, 57 years on from his debut. The other, the late Mike Doyle, was City’s EFL Cup-winning captain in 1976.
A flag depicting the elder Doyle with that trophy was draped over the edge of the South Stand’s second tier before kick-off. Seconds after it, the home crowd cheekily chanted “we want 10!” They would have to make do with just three and were made to wait nearly twenty minutes for the first.
On his first start since a calamitous display in the defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Otamendi ended Southampton’s short-lived resistance. After a short corner was played square to Bernardo Silva, the centre-half comfortably won an aerial battle at the far post to nod past Gunn’s replacement Alex McCarthy.
City were dominant enough to put the game to bed inside the first 45 minutes but only went into the break two up. The second, in fairness, came from a fine flowing move through Southampton’s midfield, incorporating Phil Foden, Bernardo and Riyad Mahrez before Aguero volleyed Kyle Walker’s cut-back from the byline.
Mahrez was proving to be a particular nuisance for Southampton but could not find the goal his display merited. One menacing attempt from the edge of the penalty area was blocked unconvincingly by Jan Bednarek, only for the ball to fall kindly into the path of Aguero. He made no mistake from close range.
At that point, Southampton were yet to register a shot on Claudio Bravo’s goal but City’s cup ‘keeper would be busier in the final half hour. With a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, he was retrieving the ball from the back of his net. Stephens had already wasted one far-post opportunity from a corner a few minutes earlier. He converted second time around.
Guardiola immediately ordered one young substitute preparing to come on – Ian Poveda-Ocampo – to return to the bench. Yet even if the City manager was taking no chances, there would be no turnaround. Southampton’s redemption will have to wait until at least Saturday, when they visit the Etihad once again.