Pep Guardiola says Manchester City’s 12-point lead at the top of the Premier League is beyond his expectations, despite dropping points for the first time since October as Southampton held on for a hard-earned draw at St Mary’s.
City had won 12 games in a row to open a considerable advantage over Liverpool and Chelsea before that fine run came to an end on Saturday.
Kyle Walker-Peters scored a superb seventh-minute opener for Southampton following a neat one-two with Nathan Redmond, touching the ball into his path before firing beyond Ederson on the bounce.
But Kevin de Bruyne curled a free-kick onto the head of Aymeric Laporte and the unmarked defender nodded past Fraser Forster to level with 25 minutes remaining.
De Bruyne hit the post moments later while Rodri and Gabriel Jesus also struck the woodwork. Forster denied Raheem Sterling too with his legs at close range from a glorious chance in the first half.
“I feel, as a manager, confident for the future with the way we are behaving,” Guardiola told BBC Sport.
“Without the ball, everybody helps each other. I know how difficult this stadium is, with the way they play and how good we have played.”
The result gives a flicker of hope to City’s rivals, who can both make up ground when they play on Sunday, though Guardiola says even if his side had won, the title race is “not over in January”.
Second-placed Liverpool have two games in hand before their visit to Crystal Palace while Chelsea, in third, host Tottenham.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand how, to drop points after one good performance, for them to say that now the race is open, when before it’s over,” added Guardiola.
“I would love in January to be 40 points in front of teams like Liverpool and Chelsea, the big rivals. But in January it is impossible.
“I would say I didn’t expect to be in this position with this margin. It’s not big, but it’s OK.”
Southampton, who are now unbeaten in eight games at home in the top flight, sit 12th in the table.