Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City’s 1-1 draw at Southampton epitomises the difficulty of defending the Premier League title.
Reigning champions City were unable to stretch their winning run to 13 top-flight games after being forced to come from behind at a boisterous St Mary’s.
Aymeric Laporte’s 65th-minute header cancelled out a shock early opener from Saints defender Kyle Walker-Peters.
But the runaway leaders could not find a winner as they dropped points for the first time since late October, leaving them 12 above second-placed Liverpool, albeit having played two games more.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) January 22, 2022
Despite the minor setback, City manager Guardiola had no complaints about the performances of his players.
“That’s why it is the hardest prize to achieve every season, the most important one,” he said of the title.
“It’s so difficult, with different contenders, everyone is ready. We are the reigning champions, we have won a lot in the past, and it’s not so funny for the rest, so it’s more difficult to win and win.
“That’s why making back-to-back titles in the last 12, 13 years has happened only once, which was ourselves, and now we’re trying to do it again.
“We know how difficult it is and I don’t need to win, draw or lose today to know that we still have a lot of games to play. What we have to do is try to behave and play the way we played today.
“Even winning today, the title race would not be over. In January, no one is champion, there are many games that must be played.”
City monopolised the ball on the south coast but were facing an uphill task after just seven minutes when recalled Southampton defender Walker-Peters delighted the home crowed by lashing home his maiden Premier League goal.
On-loan Saints striker Armando Broja had a tidy finish disallowed for offside and also nodded against a post before unmarked defender Laporte headed home a Kevin De Bruyne free-kick with 25 minutes to go.
City, who wasted a golden first-half chance through Raheem Sterling, pushed hard to maintain their lengthy winning run, with De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus each striking the right post.
De Bruyne also saw penalty appeals waved away by referee Simon Hooper following a VAR review after going down on the edge of Saints’ box while being challenged by Mohammed Salisu and Oriol Romeu.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) January 22, 2022
“We play to play good and try to defend our badge and our people as best as possible and the title will always be a consequence of what we’ve done,” said Guardiola.
“Today was really good. We played really well – maybe for 15, 20 minutes, we were not aggressive enough – but the last 20, 25 minutes (in the first half) we were excellent and the second half was excellent too.
“We made an excellent performance today against a top side who defended well and punish on the counter attack.
“It’s always tough to play against them because they have experience and many, many things, and they made an exceptional performance.”
Southampton, who sit in 12th position, have now held City twice this season following a goalless draw at the Etihad Stadium in September.
Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl felt this was the more impressive of the two results, given the opposition had a full week to prepare followed by a fortnight’s break.
“They have more gears than we have and when they switch to the next gear and you cannot follow, it is super tough against them,” said the Austrian.
“They find solutions for every way you want to press them and find the gaps. It really pushes you back and we couldn’t release the pressure in the second half.
“They never let you breathe, they come again and they come again.
“They (Saints’ players) have done it once away in the Etihad and to do it again is even more remarkable for me because they had a week to prepare, they came with the best team.
“It’s amazing to go and not lose this game and really fighting for the point and deserving to get it because of our effort and passion.”