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Aguero assists see Manchester City climb above Saints into second

When Sergio Aguero was wrongly booked by referee Mike Jones when instead he should’ve had a penalty in the first 10 minutes at St Mary’s, you wondered whether it was going to be one of those days for Manchester City.

Playing domestically after their difficult Champions League campaign had already resulted in Manuel Pellegrini’s team dropping seven Premier League points this term, but any hint of a hangover was markedly absent in a classic second half counter-attacking display at Southampton.

Yaya Toure, impact sub Frank Lampard and surprise source Gael Clichy grabbed goals as English top-flight champions City broke with venom to make a mockery of the best defence in the division.

Ronald Koeman and the Saints’ European ambitions have been rocked. They are now 5/2 with Coral to finish in the top four, and face perennial achievers of that feat Arsenal next.

A comprehensive away win for the Etihad outfit came at a price, however. Eliaquim Mangala, a £32m summer signing from Porto, picked up two bookings for rather crude defending, and City finished with nine men as club captain Vincent Kompany limped off at St Mary’s. Both may miss the midweek trip to Sunderland, who we shall return to later.

While midfield maestros Toure and Lampard took full advantage of catching Southampton cold, it was Argentine attacker Aguero – the Premier League’s leading marksman no less – who laid on two goals.

Pundit Jamie Carragher speculated pre-match as to whether this prolific scorer and lethal finisher could do the sublime all-round work of contemporaries Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Comparing Aguero with the latter is particularly pertinent, as Portugal icon Ronaldo assisted two himself to help Real Madrid set a new club record winning streak away at Malaga the night before this match. Under current City coach Pellegrini, this surprise Spanish package from a few seasons ago finished in the top four.

Like Saints, Malaga had to cash in on their best players after punching above their weight, but have endured and remain in the mix for a European place. Whether either have the stamina to stay there in their respective and relentless leagues remains to be seen.

For Pellegrini’s current charges, the gap to Premier League leaders Chelsea is down to five. That is still sufficient room for manoeuvre for Jose Mourinho, but the Blues were held at Sunderland, with the Spanish axis of striker Diego Costa and creator Cesc Fabregas stopped by brave Black Cats defending.

Aguero’s intelligence on the south coast, where Southampton had let in just one goal all season, proved he is the English top-flight’s equivalent of Ballon d’Or nominees Messi and Ronaldo. City have shortened in the betting to retain their Premier League title to 9/2.

Koeman losing this latest contest makes the perfect stick for his critics to beat Saints with. For all their impressive performances, whenever Southampton have come up against top six teams from last term in league action they have lost.

And yet, they have already beaten next opponents Arsenal in the Capital One Cup. That is likely to be motivation for revenge for the Gunners, who have now recorded back-to-back wins, however. Saints can silence their critics by responding at the Emirates, and it should be compelling for punters and fans alike.