Following a stunning victory at home to Liverpool on Thursday, Manchester City now turn their attentions to the south coast to face Southampton. With both sides now sitting comfortably in the league, the highest scorers in the division face-off against one the league’s deadliest strikers in what promises to be a high scoring affair.
Even with the Saints all but securing their place in the Premier League next season, Guardiola and his men will expect a tough challenge ahead, as St Mary’s has already proven to be a sticky away fixture for the Blues in seasons gone by.
Fernandinho is ready to return to first team action for Manchester City after sitting the last two out due to a suspension. Sergio Agüero still remains out as he recovers from his knee surgery. Apart from the Argentine’s absence, the rest of the City squad appears to be fresh and available.
For Southampton, they welcome the return of Jack Stephens and Moussa Djenepo from their own respective suspensions. The Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is expected to return after a minor muscular injury along with Moroccan winger Sofiane Boufal - after a thigh injury.
Manchester City enter this fixture off the back of a thumping 4-0 win over the newly crowned champions Liverpool; taking their post-lockdown record to four wins out of five. The Citizens have scored the most goals in the same period with a total of 15 goals and only conceding in the tie against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. With a wealth of changes expected this coming game-week, and an FA Cup semi-final in a fortnight’s time, City will surely hope to maintain such standards.
The Saints have also started the post-lockdown period in flying form. Two wins over relegation battling Norwich and Watford, either side of a home loss to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, has shown the Saints have been at their clinical best. Their leading front man Danny Ings has been in inspired form throughout this campaign, notching 18 goals so far this season - with three goals and an assist since the restart.
However, Southampton currently have the worst home record in the league this season, with a goal difference of -17. Whilst Manchester City, with an admittedly faltering record away from home, have the second-best away record - amassing 28 points and a goal difference of +15.
Head to Head
City have a surprisingly solid record against Southampton of late, winning the last seven fixtures between the two sides. The most recent of those was of course the 2-1 victory at the Etihad back in November, where Kyle Walker scored late on to snatch the three points after going a goal behind.
The fixture will also be fondly remembered for two magnificent last minute winners from the Mancunian side. During City’s Centurion campaign, Southampton defended valiantly in both affairs only to be undone by last-minute magic. Raheem Sterling expertly finished a 97th minute winner to send the Etihad into raptures. And on the final day of the season, Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus netted a delicious chip in the dying embers of the match to secure City’s historic 100-point season.
After deploying a double pivot against Liverpool midweek, City should revert to having Fernandinho as a sole holding midfielder for this one. Coincidentally, the starting eleven could well echo the side that came out 3-1 winners in their last trip to St Mary’s back in December 2018.
Southampton are one of the best pressing sides in the league. Even in their current league position, Hassenhuttl is an exceptional coach and given the right time, will indeed emulate the successes of Pochettino and Koeman. The Austrian’s side deploy a 4-4-2 model. In the press however, the wingers of Redmond & Armstrong push high up to make a 4-2-4 formation.
Something City fans will be very familiar with, as City’s press consists of pushing either KDB or D.Silva to join with the central striker while for example, Gundogan, sits deep with Rodri. Ward Prowse, Hojbjerg & Romeu are three hard-working midfielders who will disrupt the central areas constantly but also possess the calmness on the ball that once they win the ball back. Hassenhuttl himself summarised his gegenpressing by stating: “The best playmaker is the ball winner. Statistically, the chance of creating a goal is higher within 10 seconds of winning the ball”.
In recent years we have experienced some incredibly defensive performances by Southampton. But I doubt that will be the case this weekend, with the Saints tying to rush and unsettle City’s build up sequences. While being very dangerous and with the potential to hurt City, this may work in the Citizens’ favour. If Southampton do decide to push up, Ederson very well could lift the ball in the empty space in-between midfield and defence for the out-and-in runs from the wingers.
If Southampton’s decide to be aggressive by pushing up the full backs to meet the build up play, it can be a way City look to exploit the defence. Similar to Robertson and TAA on Thursday, their pressure and ability to ‘jump’ in certain moments in the press could be used against them, as Foden expertly demonstrated to turn around the corner. But also, with our wingers remaining incredibly high and wide to truly expand the pitch, the space in behind the Saints full backs will be lucrative and the build up play will be to expose that space and create 1v1s for Mahrez and Sterling. Akin to the Leicester home game back in December, where the switch pass to Mahrez caused Chilwell all sorts of problems.
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