Manchester City's Toure de force
MAN CITY 3
(Yaya Toure 51, Frank Lampard 80, Gael Clichy 88)
Chelsea boast the better team, but Manchester City are blessed with Yaya Toure.
When his teammates wobble, he stands firm. When nerves are shredded, he seldom falters. He doesn't yield. He doesn't crack.
He's a man for the biggest of moments. He edges close contests. He settles titles. Last night, he silenced the pretenders to the top four as City prevailed 3-0.
For more than 50 minutes, Southampton had handled everything that the visitors had thrown at them and had finally settled in the battle for second spot. But appearances can be deceptive.
Most teams end up with nothing left to give, nothing left to throw. But, once City have chucked in the kitchen sink, they send in Toure.
His driven winner broke the hosts' hearts, perhaps exposing the Saints' shortcomings when it comes to the established elite.
Ronald Koeman's men are drilled, disciplined and delivering beyond all expectations.
But superior talent usually wins out in the end.
Following their memorable comeback against Bayern Munich, City ran out at St Mary's with a line-up that served as a reminder of how intimidating they can be to opponents beyond Stamford Bridge.
Even Jose Mourinho must acknowledge that the side now in second position should prove to be dogged challengers, despite the six-point gap. Christmas is coming and the lights have been switched on at City.
Only a bizarre decision from referee Mike Jones denied the visitors an early lead.
Sergio Aguero isn't renowned for simulation and when he took off following a challenge from Jose Fonte, a penalty appeared to be the only outcome.
Replays confirmed that Fonte clattered into Aguero's legs, but Jones booked the Argentinian for diving. The referee was giving his Christmas presents out early.
Still, City's attacking momentum had clearly carried over from the Champions League. The game faces were firmly in place with Toure and Aguero running rampant.
But the visitors' inability to capitalise on their superiority almost conspired against them when Joe Hart was forced to make a double save in the 21st minute.
He rushed out of goal to deny Graziano Pelle a clean connection on the ball and then pushed away Steven Davis' rebound.
City's soft defensive centre remains.
Their weakness is magnified when they are wasteful at the other end.
Stevan Jovetic's snapshot wriggled through Fraser Forster on the half-hour mark, but found only Toby Alderweireld's outstretched thigh on the goal-line.
Southampton have been stingy at home all season and were hanging on, but when an impenetrable object meets an unstoppable force, Toure usually wins.
In the 51st minute, Fernandinho released Aguero and he slid the ball across for the galloping Ivorian.
With minimal fuss, Toure thumped a low drive from outside the box, the ball taking a slight deflection as it spun past Forster.
And then that soft defensive centre revealed itself once more, in the guise of the hopeless Eliaquim Mangala.
His two daft yellow cards left City hanging on in the final 15 minutes, making the contest closer than it ever needed to be.
Southampton pressed their one-man advantage, but were caught on the counter-attack twice by voracious opponents, first by substitute Frank Lampard in the 80th minute and then by Gael Clichy eight minutes later.
Chelsea must take note of Southampton's first home defeat of the season.
The champions are firmly back in the title race.
Fraser Forster, Nathaniel Clyne, Jose Fonte, Toby Alderweireld, Ryan Bertrand, Morgan Schneiderlin (Maya Yoshida 46), Steven Davis (Emmanuel Mayuka 82), Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane (Shane Long 67), Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle
- MAN CITY:
Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Eliaqium Mangala, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri (Frank Lampard 65), Jesus Navas (Martin Demichelis 76), Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Stevan Jovetic (James Milner 55)