LONDON (Reuters) -
A few days after dismantling new Premier League champions Liverpool, the inconsistency that has undermined Manchester City’s bid for a hat-trick of titles returned.
Coach Pep Guardiola said after that he could not understand the defeat and the statistics explain why. City had 26 shots at goal, one more than Leicester City managed when they beat Southampton 9-0 in October.
City also had double the amount of touches as Southampton, more than double the amount of passes and spent most of the last 20 minutes seemingly camped in Southampton's penalty area.
Guardiola played down suggestions he needs to strengthen his squad, but he will be painfully aware that nine defeats do not happen by accident and that the 23-point lead Liverpool at the top is not an illusion.
With midfield magician David Silva playing his last few games for City and a defence needing some surgery, Guardiola has some serious work to do if they are to ensure they are Liverpool’s main challengers next season.
Since the restart of the Premier League, one constant theme has been the dire form of the teams at the bottom.
Usually, one or two clubs string together some wins and draws to make a late dash for survival.
But from their last five matches the bottom four — Norwich City, Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Watford, have managed three points from a possible 60.
Only West Ham United have bucked the trend since the three-month lay-off, winning at Chelsea in the week -- one of the few shock results since the restart -- and drawing 2-2 at Newcastle United on Sunday.
Their manager David Moyes says it could all go to the last game of the season but having moved four points above the drop zone, and with the form of those below them, one more win might be enough to secure their top-flight status.
There have been several false dawns at Manchester United since Alex Ferguson retired, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are beginning to look capable of a title-challenge next season.
“The energy levels in his game, it’s the Pogba United paid 89 million (pounds) for four years ago,” former United defender Rio Ferdinand said. “A big factor is undoubtedly the man he is playing with in the centre of midfield — Bruno Fernandes.”
With reports of Borussia Dortmund’s English youngster Jadon Sancho on his way to Old Trafford, these are exiting times for United.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge