The biggest victory of Southampton manager Nathan Jones’ brief tenure came when his team beat favorites Manchester City to go to the EFL Cup semifinals.
Since his transfer from Luton Town, Jones has had trouble winning over Saints supporters, but his popularity has undoubtedly increased as a result of the way the Premier League underachievers have continued their successful cup run.
Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne were given rests by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in preparation for this weekend’s Old Trafford derby against Manchester United, but nothing should overshadow Southampton’s energetic performance.
Sekou Mara’s accurate goal after 23 minutes and Moussa Djenepo’s outstanding second goal five minutes later, when he caught City goalkeeper Stefan Ortega off his line with a lofted long-range effort, put the game out of reach in the first half.
After the halftime, Guardiola substituted De Bruyne and Haaland, but it proved ineffective as Southampton fiercely maintained their lead to advance to the final four, where they will face Newcastle.
In the EFL Cup semifinals, Man Utd takes on Forest.
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Are things changing for Jones?
The stadium’s atmosphere at St. Mary’s was hinted at by the large number of empty seats for a cup quarterfinal Southampton played at home against Manchester City. Southampton supporters were not happy with Jones’ hiring and his poor performance, but by the game’s conclusion, there was genuine joy all over the place.
Jones still has a lot of work to do to get Saints out of the relegation zone and win over the doubters, but this will be beneficial for both him and his players on all fronts.
Things look better now that the excellent midfielder Carlos Alcaraz has arrived from Racing Club in Argentina and that Croatian international Mislav Orsic has made his World Cup-fresh debut as a late substitute after joining from Dinamo Zagreb.
Jones had pushed Southampton to play with energy and intensity, and he got it here, especially in the first half when a reorganized City was outplayed in the middle while Mara and Djenepo provided the cutting and drive.
And for the manager, it is the kind of statement victory over top opposition that will encourage people who are skeptical of his strategies to have a greater faith in them.
With a crucial Premier League match against fellow underachievers Everton on Saturday at Goodison Park, Southampton will go to Merseyside with renewed confidence after a fantastic performance and a result to match.
Manchester City was unprepared
Manchester City traveled to the rain-soaked south coast as heavy favorites to defeat struggling Saints and advance to the EFL Cup semifinals, but it was the underwhelming Premier League winners who received the reward for their subpar effort.
Even though Guardiola made adjustments, the starting lineup still had seasoned players like Julian Alvarez, a World Cup champion, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Jack Grealish, Ilkay Gundogan, and Joao Cancelo.
It was an especially dismal night for Kalvin Phillips, who was given his first start but was so ineffective and off the pace that it wasn’t a surprise when he was replaced, and for deputy goalkeeper Ortega.
He has, in his defense, been severely lacking in first-team action, but he made no indications here that he will soon be able to force his way through Guardiola’s wealth of riches in the midfield.
In addition, Ortega was completely out of position for Djenepo’s long-range goal, which was the pivotal moment that increased Saints’ confidence and gave City a disadvantage that they themselves were unable to overcome.
Guardiola and City may not have the EFL Cup at the top of their list of objectives, but this was still a terribly disappointing performance and outcome.