Targeting 13 straight PL wins before the winter break – Southampton vs Manchester City Preview
It's a trip to St. Mary's and Southampton for Pep Guardiola and the Premier League's runaway leaders as the Blues look to their sensational winning run. It was a dozen up last time out as the reigning champions impressively beat title rivals Chelsea 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium - a game that saw a stunner by Kevin De Bruyne win a closely contended affair.
Referee: Simon Hooper
Assistants: Simon Long, Derek Eaton
Fourth official: Andre Marriner
VAR: Darren England
Assistant VAR: Gary Beswick
City will head into the game against Ralph Hassenhuttl's side ELEVEN points clear at the summit of the league with their closest contenders not playing until the following day. That means a victory on the South Coast would send Guardiola's leaders fourteen points clear of Liverpool on Saturday night which would make it the largest gap between the top two so far this season. With only sixteen matches left to play, City will be delighted to chalk off another win on Saturday evening, provided they do come away with the three points.
The opposition: Southampton
League position: 12th
Top scorer: James Ward-Prowse
Previous result: L 4-1 v Wolves (A)
Southampton's season has been as they would've expected so far this season with Hassenhuttl's men sitting comfortably twelfth in the league table. An emphatic 4-1 win over Brentford recently would've had Saints fans optimistic that perhaps they could make a push towards the upper half of the table or at least tenth but that loss at Wolves would've certainly grounded them again.
Their record against the top six doesn't make delightful reading. The Saints are yet to win against one of the traditional big six yet they have been able to take two points against the two Manchester clubs - and perhaps were unlucky not to win both of those games. Certainly at the Etihad, a controversial call to overturn a penalty against Kyle Walker robbed them of a monumental chance to upset Guardiola's, at the time, stuttering Blues.
The contrast now is chalk and cheese - maybe that isn't even a strong enough comparison. City are flying and have won twelve on the spin since the last encounter between these two, giving them an *almost* unassailable lead at the top - nothing is certain in this league though. Where the last meeting saw City pair Ruben Dias with Nathan Ake, City's most successful partnership has seen the Portuguese paired with the exceptionally gifted Aymeric Laporte, whose impeccable distribution was heavily lacking in the last encounter with John Stones also missing.
Southampton did an outstanding job in that last meeting of nullifying City's attacking contingents, and that was partly down to the Blues' inability to break down the Saints' formation that did a particularly outstanding job in boxing off Jack Grealish, who had little to no influence on the game. With him the only creative threat in the City side, they were unable to break Southampton down at all and only mustered up a shot on target in the final minute of the game.
This will be a completely different task for the Saints this time around though with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva in electric form heading into this encounter. It will take a monumental effort for Southampton to take something from this game if the runaway leaders and Premier League champions turn up and play their best football.
Will Smallbone, Moussa Djenepo, Alex McCarthy and Valentino Livramento all remain sidelined. Livramento and McCarthy both played 90 minutes the last time the sides met at the Etihad and both have been integral to Southampton this season, with Livramento drawing particular praise across the league for his performances.
Potential XI: 4-4-2
XI: Forster, Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Salisu, Perraud, Ward-Prowse, Romeu, Armstrong, Redmond, Broja, Adams.
The City View:
League position: 1st
Top scorer: Raheem Sterling/Bernardo Silva (7)
Previous result: W 1-0 v Chelsea (H)
City are in imperious form and most people now will have written off any chance of them losing their grip on a fourth title under Pep Guardiola and a sixth league title in the last decade - maybe they're right and the title race is done - but Pep and the Blues know that they have to keep winning to not give any more incentive to Liverpool, who reflected by Klopp's post-match actions in front of the Kop after a 3-0 win over Brentford, still believe this title is up for grabs.
City fans would've pointed to an away trip at Arsenal and a home game against one of their fiercest modern rivals Chelsea as potential opportunities for dropped points. Instead, two wins under very different circumstances have left the Blues with a run of lighter fixtures coming up and an eleven point lead on the chasing pack. The chaos of December is out the way and the January blues have been avoided, if only by a 93rd-minute goal at the Emirates, and now City can look to fixtures against Southampton (A), Brentford (H) and Norwich (A) before a home clash with Antonio Conte's inspired Tottenham as games to press home their title advantage and strengthen their grip on the top spot.
They'll be able to look at those fixtures currently with no major injury concerns and a fully-fit squad, which will be a huge boost to Guardiola. This time last season City had to navigate a tricky fixture run without the injured Kevin De Bruyne which in turn gave Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan the platform to step up which they absolutely did - performances at Anfield and Goodison Park, in particular, were stellar and an emphatic home win over Spurs put City out of sight in the title race.
This year, Pep should be able to manage minutes though and avoid the predicament of having only two fit central midfielders at times. There's an FA Cup clash with Fulham before City welcome Brentford to the Etihad and then there's the first leg of the Champions League round of sixteen against Sporting to deal with before City host Spurs the following weekend. Looking forward, if City have won every league game heading into the Manchester derby, they will surely then have an unassailable lead for Liverpool to hold on to.
Potential XI: 4-3-3
XI: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo, Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, Foden, Grealish.
Head-to-Head record points to a City victory
City have had constant joy at St. Mary's over recent seasons and have an almost perfect record there when managed by Pep Guardiola. Like many recent patterns in fixtures over the Guardiola years, a couple of them have been marred by losses when Eric Garcia has started - Southampton's only home win against City under Guardiola was when Eric Garcia started the game at St. Mary's when the Blues lost 1-0. Other than it, it's been four games, four wins, eight goals scored and one conceded. That pattern should continue tomorrow unless something goes horrendously wrong.
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