This is the game that, for the majority of Southampton fans, they would have been dreading for the past few weeks – playing away on Sunday to Manchester City.
Last season’s Premier League champions have continued to ooze class this term, as they sit at the top of the table joint with Liverpool unbeaten on 26 points, having only drawn to the Reds and the impressive Wolves so far.
Their South-coast opponents have also began the season in the same manner as they did last season; tip-toeing above the relegation zone. Sat on a lowly 7 points and winless in 6, they continue to struggle to convert their abundance of created chances into goals, and this match could not have come at a worse time for the Saints and their need for a win.
Riyad Mahrez got the only goal as City grinded out what could be a precious victory at Tottenham. The winger, who signed from Leicester City in the summer, converted in the sixth minute on Monday night, and dedicated his goal to Foxes owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who tragically died alongside four others in a helicopter crash on Saturday evening.
Southampton however couldn’t treat their fans to a desired win, or even a goal they’ve been starving for. They drew 0-0 for a second consecutive week to a similarly-struggling Newcastle United, registering 20 shots throughout but couldn’t make the net bulge. It was a game that once more exemplified how they are more than able to provide their attackers with opportunities to convert, but lack the ability to finish those opportunities, and at large it has been their biggest problem this season.
To no real surprise, the last game these sides met ended in a victory to the northerners. It wasn’t resounding however, as Gabriel Jesus struck the only goal in the fourth minute of added time in the final match of the season at St Mary’s Stadium, putting a final touch of gloss on City’s remarkable record-breaking campaign, and left Southampton fans with a sour taste on their tongues despite avoiding relegation.
City are aiming to keep a clean sheet in a seventh consecutive league match for the first time in their history. Ederson, who has kept a clean sheet in his last six PL starts, can become the first goalkeeper to make it seven in a row since Edwin van der Sar achieved a run of 14 for Manchester United in 2008/09.
Mark Hughes has reported a fully-fit squad for Saints’ trip to the Etihad, as Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who missed the draw with Newcastle last weekend through illness, is now back in contention for selection.
“We’ve got a clean bill of health,” revealed the Saints boss. “Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is over his illness – he’s trained, so he’s available, and everybody else is fit and available.”
Meanwhile, City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne has suffered another setback and will now expect to miss five to six weeks after injuring a ligament in his left knee in Thursday’s 2-0 Carabao Cup victory over Fulham. The Belgium international had scans after limping off three minutes before the end of the match, but will reportedly not require surgery, having previously injured a ligament in his right knee in August.
Despite the sickening setback, Citizens’ chief Pep Guardiola said that the fact De Bruyne has missed so much football in the early part of the season could be a blessing later in the campaign, and is expected to have Ilkay Gundogan back available for the game to reinforce his midfield.
Predicted line ups:
Southampton (4-4-2): McCarthy; Cedric, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand; Elyounoussi, Hojbjerg, Lemina, Redmond; Austin, Ings.
Hjobjerg’s return to the side could really help Hughes’ side if they want to prevent a characteristic Man City white wash. Arguably their best player this season alongside Nathan Redmond, the Dane scored a mesmerising opening goal from 30-yards out in the last game they scored – their 2-2 draw to Brighton at home, offering solidarity in-front of the backline and injections of attacking prowess when needed.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Laporte, Mendy; B Silva, Fernandinho, D Silva; Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling.
Guardiola should name a similar side to the one that defeated Spurs, with Kompany perhaps in contention for re-selection. Gundogan is available, but may make an appearance off the bench, either way if they’re struggling or sailing, with my selected three (especially Fernandinho) in really good form as of late. With that being said, if they can replicate their performance shown in the 5-0 thumping of Burnley a fortnight ago, they should grab another win to re-instate their top-of-table status once more.
Prediction – Man City 3-1 Southampton
(Quote credits: Southampton FC)