Manchester City failed to win for a fifth successive game in all competitions on Sunday, only avoiding a loss to Southampton when Kelechi Iheanacho produced a second-half equalizer.
Although Pep Guardiola is enduring a five-game winless run for the first time since his debut campaign in charge of Barcelona in 2008-09, City is top of the Premier League on goal difference.
A mistake by City defender John Stones presented Nathan Redmond with the opener in the 27th minute at home. Substitute Iheanacho equalized 10 minutes into the second half with City’s first shot on target but the hosts could not find the winner.
City could feel hard done by after dominating possession, particularly in the second half, and having a Stones goal ruled out for offside. Yet after opening the season with 10 successive wins, the intensity does seem to have dropped temporarily.
After Wednesday’s loss at Barcelona in the Champions League, City’s players needed to make a statement in response but they could not rouse themselves enough after a subdued first-half performance.
Sergio Aguero was restored to the front line after his surprise omission at Barcelona, while fit-again captain Vincent Kompany made his first league start since April.
City struggled to get going, with promising runs from Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane all coming to nothing. City’s lack of cutting edge suited Southampton, who struggled to gain any meaningful possession.
When Southampton took the lead it came after a glaring error by Stones, who did not look up as he passed the ball back into the area in the 27th minute. Kompany was not in tune with his fellow defender and Redmond pounced, taking the ball wide of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and scoring.
The look on Stones’ face made clear the horror of his error, which will bring into further focus Guardiola’s determination to play out from the back at seemingly all costs.
Stones picked himself up and thought he had made quick amends as he raced in at the far post to tuck home a De Bruyne free-kick. He celebrated what he assumed was the equaliser with gusto but a flag had been raised for what appeared to be offside against Aguero.
The frustration continued for City as Ilkay Gundogan drove wide but the introduction of Iheanacho at halftime brought a change in shape, intensity and atmosphere.
Sterling was enlivened and curled a dangerous ball through the box before City claimed their equalizer. Fernandinho picked out Sane with an accurate crossfield ball and his low cross was neatly tucked in by Iheanacho.
From then on it mainly became a case of Southampton digging in and looking to protect what they had, although Bravo was called upon to make one save from a Charlie Austin drive. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster kept Southampton level by palming away Gundogan’s effort before saving David Silva’s long-range strike to secure the point for the south-coast side, which is eighth in the standings.