Early goals from Mara and Djenepo helped Southampton defeat Manchester City.
What an impact one week had on Nathan Jones. An inspired performance, highlighted by goals from Sékou Mara and Moussa Djenepo, knocked the wind out of Manchester City’s sails on a blustery night on the south coast seven days after Southampton’s manager left the field with boos ringing in his ears after losing the bottom of the Premier League match against Nottingham Forest.
As Kalvin Phillips made his debut for a City team that never really looked like finding a way back into this game after falling behind, it was a night to forget for Pep Guardiola, who was hoping to become the first manager to win the League Cup five times and pass Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough. But despite not earning a single point in his four league games, Jones has already won three times in cup competitions, and the ecstatic home crowd gave him a standing ovation when the game was over. The semi-final opponents are Newcastle.
Jones declared, “I think I’ve earned the right to be here. Every level I’ve been at has asked me questions, but I enjoy answering.
After succeeding Ralph Hasenhüttl in November, the former Luton manager confessed this week that he has been finding it difficult to win over the supporters. However, this result will go a long way toward convincing them that he is the appropriate candidate for the position. Southampton kept to Jones’s vow that his team would be aggressive from the outset, and it produced great benefits as the approach obviously unsettled their illustrious opponents. Southampton was headed by the outstanding former City academy player Roméo Lavia in midfield.
Guardiola’s experiment with Kyle Walker as one of City’s two central defenders in the first half failed, but even the second-half substitutions of Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland off the bench failed to inspire the visitors. The city has won this competition five times in the last seven years and defeated Liverpool in the last round, but despite controlling possession as usual, they were unable to penetrate Southampton’s defense.
After surviving an early scare when Ilkay Gündogan’s attempt was blocked by Mohammed Salisu after Cole Palmer lost possession of the ball, Southampton’s well-executed corner routine forced Stefan Ortega to tip Duje Caleta-shot Car’s around the post. When the breakthrough occurred, however, Jack Grealish was to blame. He gave the ball to Lynch and stood by as Mara swept home the Brazilian’s wonderful cross for his first goal since signing from Bordeaux in the summer.
Less than five minutes later, there was going to be even better. Just inside the City half, Djenepo was located by Lavia’s deft turn and accurate pass, but the Mali international appeared to have only one goal in mind as he skillfully chipped the ball over Ortega from a considerable distance away. Guardiola had a hard time believing what he was seeing, much like the home crowd.
The City manager had lauded Phillips’ “great work ethic” in practice just a few weeks after criticizing him for being overweight when he returned from the World Cup. So it wasn’t too shocking to see him start 191 days after his £42 million transfer from Leeds, even though the 27-year-old still appeared to be lagging behind the vivacious Belgian adolescent Lavia.
De Bruyne, on the other hand, made an early effect after coming off the bench. Julián Alvarez was put in with an inch-perfect through ball, but Argentina forward was unable to score. After seeming to shoulder-barge Djenepo off the ball and leaving the field to a chorus of boos when he was replaced by Haaland, Grealish was arguably fortunate to escape punishment.
Guardiola deployed all five replacements with about a third of the game remaining after Phillips’ departure in the 62nd minute, but Southampton appeared more likely to double their advantage when Kyle Walker-Peters missed his shot. The Southampton supporters were delighted when Haaland’s feeble attempt at a scorpion kick harmlessly flew harmlessly over the crossbar.
At the opposite end, Ché Adams did succeed in scoring, but the substitute’s joy was short-lived when the assistant flagged him for offside. However, it would only put off the celebrations for a short while as Southampton and Jones relished their victory in a season that hasn’t been particularly joyous.