Southampton-Manchester City Preview
First, Manchester City fell from the top of the Premier League table, and they've now slipped from the lead in their Champions League group.
The potential correction of the latter heading into the knockout phase will have to wait a few weeks, though they'll get back to work domestically Saturday at the Etihad Stadium against Southampton. What kind of lineup City will feature is anyone's guess - including manager Manuel Pellegrini.
For the injury-depleted Citizens (8-2-3), things began going sour in the league with a scoreless draw at bottom-dwelling Aston Villa on Nov. 8, and it got worse with last Saturday's 4-1 home loss to Liverpool. Three goals flew by them in the first 32 minutes, and then Leicester City and Manchester United did likewise in the table.
Next came Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Juventus in Group D, sending the Italian champions two points clear of City with a match remaining for each. Both clubs have already advanced, but City missed out on a chance to be in the driver's seat heading into the final matchday of group play.
"We have to forget this game and try to bounce back in the league," Yaya Toure told the club's official website.
City were without six potential starters in Turin as David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri, Wilfried Bony, Pablo Zabaleta and Eliaquim Mangala are dealing with injuries. That list grew with goalkeeper Joe Hart being substituted in the 81st minute, so there are plenty of questions as they return from midweek disappointment.
Pellegrini doesn't yet have answers.
"As for Joe Hart - it is impossible to know how serious his injury is at this point. He has a problem with his hamstring and has had a problem in his back for the past week," Pellegrini said. "We hope we don't lose him, but for if for some reason he cannot play I have trust in Willy Caballero.
"David Silva is working with the physio in Manchester ... but Vincent Kompany has no chance to play this week. He is not running yet and will need at least two weeks more."
The Belgian centre back helped City to a pair of shutout victories against Southampton last season, though he wasn't in the starting XI for the second. Even without him, it might be scoring that concerns Pellegrini more.
Sergio Aguero returned from his own prolonged absence to feature and score against Liverpool but is yet to reach 70 minutes in his two matches back. His goal against the Reds stands as the club's only in three matches since scoring 10 on a three-match winning streak across all competitions.
City have won the last three meetings with the Saints by a 9-1 total, including 2-0 in last season's corresponding match May 24.
Southampton (5-5-3), in eighth as one of three teams on 20 points and six back of third-place Manchester City, haven't had a midweek match to deal with since the end of October, so they've played three games in just under a month. The latest, however, was a 1-0 home loss to Stoke City last Saturday after having gone eight matches unbeaten in all competitions with three straight victories.
The Saints put one shot on frame, and manager Ronald Koeman said his club returned from the international break in unfortunate form.
"It was not the level what we expect and what we can bring," Koeman told the club's official website. "The atmosphere in the stadium was different than normal, my team was different than normal. I felt already before the game a different belief, different atmosphere."
Southampton will now try to continue an impressive away run, going unbeaten on the road in the league (2-4-0) with their last three results a win at Sunderland, draw at Liverpool and victory at Chelsea.
The loss to Stoke also came at the cost of Graziano Pelle, whose fifth booking of the season has him on a one-match ban. Pelle has six league goals, and he's played all but 11 minutes of the Saints' 13 games.
"Obviously, he's an important part in our team and it is going to be difficult without him," captain Jose Fonte said. "But we have trust in the other players as well. We all know the philosophy that we have and we'll try and play our game there."