It seems a lifetime ago when we were weekly up in arms about VAR. In reality, it has only been a month or so since the all-new common sense approach to refereeing was introduced this season and the video referee receded into the appropriate anonymity of Stockley Park. As such, we had almost forgotten what a good VAR rant was like.
But like a sepia-tinted nostalgia fest, here was one from the good old days, designed to baffle and infuriate in equal measure, on which the match turned on 61 minutes. Adam Armstrong it was who broke dangerously into the City penalty area and Kyle Walker who dived in somewhat recklessly in an attempt to tackle. Walker got much more man than ball and referee Jon Moss gave a penalty before sending off the City right back.
After a lengthy delay, we had the ‘VAR checking penalty’ message. Which is bizarre in itself, as all penalties are checked immediately anyway. And it can’t be said often nor loudly enough, just how bad the user experience is for the fan in the stadium as they are left to guess what might be happening and denied any information or replays.
There was frustration for Manchester City as they were held to a goalless draw against Southampton at the Etihad Stadium
Raheem Sterling thought he scored a stoppage time winner only for it to be disallowed as the offside flag was raised
Kyle Walker was shown a red card for a challenge on Adam Armstrong which also saw Southampton awarded a penalty
Referee Jonathan Moss was advised to look at the VAR monitor and he overturned both Walker’s red card and the penalty kick
So when Moss was invited to take a leisurely job over to the monitor, fans are more or less invited to take a break and re-join the action again when we’re ready for them. Prime time entertainment it isn’t.
Eventually, we had Moss trotting back to rescind Walker’s red card, which seemed correct, as unless you haven’t attempted to play the ball, no player should be sent off while conceding a penalty on the principle of double jeopardy.
And yet he also overturned the penalty, which seemed odd as Walker’s aggressive challenge, which bundled Armstrong over, wasn’t the clearest cut penalty ever awarded, but it certainly didn’t seem an obvious mistake.
The Manchester City full-back tries to defend his case after he was shown the red card mid-way into the second-half
Pep Guardiola and Ralph Hasenhuttl exchange words after the penalty and red card decisions were overturned by VAR
Man City (4-3-3): Ederson 6; Walker 5, Dias 7, Ake 6, Cancelo 6; Silva 6.5 (Foden 73, 7), Fernandinho 4.5 (De Bruyne 65, 7), Gundogan 5.5; Jesus 6 (Mahrez 67, 6), Sterling 6, Grealish 6
Subs not used: Carson, Torres, Mbete, Palmer, Lavia, Wilson-Esbrand
Southampton (4-4-2): McCarthy 7; Livramento 7.5 (Perraud 86), Bednarek 8, Stephens 6 (Salisu 37, 6.5), Walker-Peters 7; Elyounoussi 7, Romeu 7.5, Ward-Prowse 7, Redmond 7.5; Adams 6 (Broja 68, 6); Armstrong 6.5
Subs not used: Forster, Lyanco, Djenepo, Tella, Diallo, Valery
Referee: Jon Moss 5
There was more, less controversially, in the 90th minute, as they game lurched to its gaol-less conclusion. City had brought on the big guns in Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez in a bid to break the deadlock. It was De Bruyne’s cross for Foden, headed goal-wards that appeared to be the key to breaking the deadlock.
Alex McCarthy saved but on the rebound, Sterling managed to get the ball across the line. Alas, he had come from an offside position, something VAR would confirm. Had Sterling left it for the onside Foden, who was following up behind, City would have had their three point.
The most significant first half action came from the crowd. Three minutes in, they roared repeatedly, a favourite anthem ‘We’ve got Guardiola’ to the tune of ‘Glad All Over’. The lover’s tiff between iconic coach and hard-core fanbase appeared resolved after Guardiola criticised the lack of atmosphere and numbers here in midweek and fans’ groups responded angrily.
Sorry might seem to the hardest word for Guardiola, but any slight aimed at the fans seemed forgiven and forgotten. That said, Guardiola had floated the prospect of leaving if fans really weren’t happy with him, which might be characterised as slightly controlling behaviour. ‘Say you love me or else I’m off!’ Whatever, the renewal of vows, coerced or not, presumably settled the spat for now. The fans were here and in force. The team, not so much.
Another benefitting from the reaffirmation of affection was Raheem Sterling, picked to start for the first time since the opening day’s 1-0 loss against Spurs. Supplanted by Ruben Dias in the leadership group at City and by Jack Grealish on the left of attack, his best work seems reserved for England these days. Here he played centrally, with City’s only recognised centre forward, Gabriel Jesus on the right and Grealish left.
Alex McCarthy comes out for a corner which Nathan Ake wins a header but the Dutchman couldn’t direct his effort on target
Manchester City had a number of efforts in the first half but struggled to create a clear cut opportunity to get a breakthrough
Jack Grealish battles for possession with Southampton defender Tino Livramento during the second-half at the Etihad
At times that trio fizzed with excitement and passed with elegance. But not often. City are too good ever to be average. Yet they allowed Southampton plenty of the ball early on, lost possession cheaply and looked some way short of their best. City should have taken the lead on 22 minutes, Kyle Walker sending in a cross which Bernardo Silva, four yards out, seemed simply to allow to rebound of his head and wide rather than make any effort to direct it goal-wards.
They were thwarted on 24 minutes when Grealish delivered one of those so-inviting crosses on to which Sterling was scampering before big Jan Bednarek dived in to block. And Sterling and Jesus combined delightfully to carve a way through Southampton, seemingly playing in Silva, though the pass was just too long and keeper McCarthy could clear.
Southampton though were beyond competent. They won a succession or corners, troubled City at times with James Ward Prowse’s delivery from set pieces and contained City in the main. There seemed no great danger from Guardiola’s team.
In-between their periodic 9-0 defeats, they look a thoroughly decent side. The loss of Danny Ings, Ryan Bertrand and Jan Vestergaard doesn’t seemed to have unduly taxed them. Ward-Prowse continues to shine in midfield, Oriel Romeu his faithful sidekick. Mohamed Elyounoussi is a threat and will be more dangerous still when he picks better options, as to when to shoot and when to pass. And Armstrong is tireless up front. They might have had much more than the point they thoroughly earned.
Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez all came on in the second half but still City struggled to create a clear chance
Man City thought they should have had a penalty of their own when Raheem Sterling went down but nothing was given
Guardiola repeatedly yelled from the touchline as City only produced one shot on target for the entirety of the 90 minutes
It was a positive point for Hasenhuttl’s side away from home despite the disappointment of their penalty being overturned