The FourFourTwo Preview: Man City vs Southampton
Game one of Manchester City's eight-game path to glory. Or failure, as the case may be.
"4-0 to the Ingerlund!" sang Southampton fans as they hammered Newcastle's hapless team last week. The Saints put in a riveting performance in arguably one of the most one-sided games of the season. Newcastle, desperate throughout, failed to register a single shot on or off target until the 51st minute as Southampton's speed of thought and movement, creativity, tactical superiority and youthful exuberance overpowered a really poor opponent PL – on the day, at least.
MAN CITY FORM
- Arsenal 1-1 Man City (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-3 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 5-0 Fulham (Prem)
- Hull 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Barca 2-1 Man City (CL)
- So'ton 4-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Spurs 3-2 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 4-2 Norwich (Prem)
- Palace 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
Mauricio Pochettino called it "amazing". Then Rickie Lambert called it their "best performance of the season". Then Pochettino likened Adam Lallana to Xavi and Iniesta. At that point it was probably for the best that no further questions were asked, lest when comparisons with the Brazil team of 1970 came up. Suffice to say it was an inspired performance, aided somewhat by shambolic opposition.
In Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez, the Saints have an English trio peaking at almost the perfect time, given the World Cup is just around the corner. All three found the net last weekend and more than three-quarters of Southampton's league goals this season have been scored by Englishmen – a welcome statistic for patriots everywhere. Other English kids like James Ward-Prowse, Calum Chambers and Luke Shaw have also been brilliant, and the work Pochettino has done down at St. Mary's this season deserves real praise. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is at least one person to be impressed, if recent rumours are to be believed.
For Manchester City, this is it – an eight-game tilt for the title starts here. With two games in hand and four points separating them from Liverpool at the top, City need all three points against Southampton. They play Liverpool away next, and any points dropped here would only make that trip to Anfield even more daunting.
In a 1-1 draw at Arsenal last weekend Manuel Pellegrini's side looked like running away with it, until Arsenal's second half comeback resulted in the visitors conceding their lead and settling for a draw. Two points dropped on the road against a vulnerable side or a point gained against a team that, not so long ago, was a fellow title contender? Time will tell.
City drew 1-1 at St. Mary's earlier this season, pegged back by a brilliant Pablo Osvaldo goal after Sergio Aguero had given them the lead. Osvaldo is back in Italy now and neither goalscorer from that day will feature here, but an entertaining game between two sides with similarly front-foot, attacking philosophies awaits.
Matija Nastasic, Micah Richards and Aguero all remain absent for City. Nathaniel Clyne and Maya Yoshida are defensive absentees for Southampton, but midfield strongman Victor Wanyama is approaching full fitness and may be involved after missing the romp against Newcastle.
Player to watch: Edin Dzeko (Man City)
Three goals in Manchester City's last four league games took Dzeko to 20 goals for the season – a princely return especially when you consider that he is widely considered as numero tres in the strikers' pecking order at the Etihad behind Aguero and Alvaro Negredo. The latter has gone off the boil somewhat lately, while injury has restricted the former to just 15 league starts. Dzeko's understated yet consistent ability to find the net, therefore, is no small comfort.
Dzeko hit two goals at Old Trafford, which is always going to score highly in the cult status stakes at City. "I came here one year and three months ago and I am seeing a different player," raved City's director of football Txiki Begiristain this week, and Dzeko – who has scored two goals in his three games against Southampton – will need shackling if the Saints are to prevail.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- So'ton 1-1 Man City (PL, Jan 05)
- So'ton 1-3 Man City (FAC, Jan 07)
- Man City 3-2 So'ton (PL, Aug 12)
- Man City 3-1 So'ton (PL, Feb 13)
- Man City 2-1 So'ton (PL, Dec 13)
A South American battle of MPs, Pellegrini and Pochettino are no strangers having regularly squared off during their time in Spain. It's the City boss who emerges with the upper hand, quite significantly so with 6 wins, 1 draw and 1 solitary defeat to his Argentine counterpart. Granted, Pellegrini has had the benefit of vastly more moneyed outfits including City, Real Madrid and Malaga (when they had cash), while Pochettino had to make ends meet at Espanyol and now Southampton. But the Saints boss will be hoping to improve his record and register a second win from nine meetings with Pellegrini come the weekend.
Facts and figures
Both teams have scored in all 3 meetings between these sides since the start of last season
Man City have been ahead at half-time in 10 of their 14 home games this season
9 of the 15 home games City have conceded in since the start of last season have seen at least 4 goals
Southampton have scored in all of their last 10 away games
A hard-fought match but City eventually prove too strong and too streetwise for their opponents. 3-1.