Southampton v Manchester City - This Evening's Preview
City set out on the road again for another late evening kick off on a Bank Holiday weekend and at a ground that is about as far away from the Etihad as it is possible to travel from Manchester in the Premier League. Thankyou Premier League and BT Sport. However, if the 'Powers That Be' think this will dampen the enthusiasm or reduce the available support for the Sky Blues in the St Mary`s stadium I suspect that once again their evil plans will be thwarted by the faithful City fans who will turn out in good numbers to back their team.
Their support will be needed as Pep's squad face a side three places above them in the current league form table (last six) - Southampton WWLDWW (6th) v City WDDDLW (9th) and showing no significant signs that the transition from Ronald Koeman`s management to that of Claude Puel has seriously troubled them. The Frenchman has guided his team to a comfortable berth in mid-table (9th) and has seen his side only narrowly defeated by the rags and Spurs in their last six fixtures. Although their last victory away at WBA took them to the magical 40 points threshold I do not imagine that they will be taking their foot off the gas even though a European qualification spot seems an unlikely ambition.
Pep will naturally want his side to build on the defeat of Hull City last weekend and is only too aware that his team's qualification for the Champion's League next season remains in jeopardy. Although Arsenal appear to have squandered their chances of a top four finish following their defeat at Selhurst Park last week, the zombie rags continue to dog our heels and with them facing the Champions Elect (TM the media) on Sunday, a victory on the south coast for City could possibly open up some clear sky blue water from them before the rescheduled derby on 27th April. We could really, really do with that result being irrelevant in terms of them directly supplanting us in the top four. I fully expect Maureen to be at his pragmatic best on Sunday when he faces the club that sacked him twice - he knows all about parking the bus having mastered the technique himself and them having the gall to criticise any other team that does the same.
But enough of that rabble, City go into this game with a fully fit squad minus the two long term absentees and Sagna who remains sidelined with a groin strain. Whether this will mean Pep will continue to deploy Navas in the unfamiliar full back role he has fulfilled recently rather than using Pablo Zabaleta we can only guess. Kompany may well be kept on ice for the FA Cup match against Arsenal next weekend and so the ever rotating back four could feature any two from Otamendi, Kolarov and Clichy. Aguero, once again snubbed in the PFA player of the year stakes (WTF he has to do to win it goodness only knows), will doubtless lead the line ably supported I suspect by Sane and Sterling with the big questions surrounding which of De Bruyne, Toure or Fernandinho will adorn the subs bench at the start of the game. If only we could play with 12 people like some of the teams we have faced this season...
The 'man in the middle' this weekend will be Neil Swarbrick by the way.
Southampton will be without van Dijk, Austin, Taggart and McCarthy through injury and Romeu because of suspension. The absence of the latter will mean that the 'kicking David Silva's ankles' duty will have to be passed to another member of Puel's squad. Simon Davies, Boufal and Gabbiadini are doubts for the Saints.
There are seven games to go in the league. 21 points to play for and with qualification for the Champions League resting in the balance every single one of them is precious but in each circumstance they can take on greater or less importance. When we won the league in 2012 one of the key results for me was the point gained at home against Sunderland from 1-3 down. With the final whistle looming Balotelli and Kolarov stepped up with goals to earn a point that proved every bit as important as the ones secured against QPR in the final game. Had we lost that game history might have been altered forever...
Three points on Saturday is essential if we are to keep the heat turned up on our rivals and keeping our shoulders through the loft door into the Champions League attic. It promises to be a tough evening on the south coast but as long as we can avoid lapses at the back we should have enough quality to do the necessary and enjoy the journey home.
Come on City!!!
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