Manchester City will be hoping to end a disappointing week on a positive note when they welcome Southampton to the Etihad Stadium in fixture that they have won in each of the last three seasons.
It is now an uphill task for the hosts to finish top of their Champions League group after they suffered defeat away to Juventus on Wednesday, but at least they served up an improved defensive display following what was an awful showing against Liverpool last weekend. They made mistake after mistake as the Reds ran riot, which was highly uncharacteristic of a side that had gone into the match leading the Premier League standings.
In Turin City reverted to fielding Fernando and Fernandinho in behind Yaya Toure, who was back in a more advanced role. That system certainly makes the side more secure at the back, and they will need that here up against a front three of Sadio Mane, Shane Long and Dusan Tadic, who on their day are very much capable of punishing errors of the sort from which Liverpool profited. In attack, City still place too much weight on the shoulders of Sergio Aguero, who is the club’s only fit out-and-out striker.
Defeat at home to a gritty Stoke City was a frustrating end to a fine run of form for Southampton, who created very little in the way of scoring chances throughout the game and always looked vulnerable to the counter-attack. The absence of Mane from the starting line-up surely made an impact, but the result represented a massive missed opportunity to close the gap on the top four. Had they won that match, Ronald Koeman’s men would have come into this one just three points behind City.
If they can take a leaf out of Liverpool’s book and press high up the pitch with intensity, Saints may stand a chance of getting a result here, especially if Long can produce the kind of relentless energy for which he is known. The Italian striker was well marshalled by Stoke, but the City back four have shown more than a few signs that they are lacking in confidence in their last couple of outings, with Vincent Kompany’s authority being sorely missed.
Willy Caballero will deputise in goal for Man City after Joe Hart picked up an injury in the week, while Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala and Pablo Zabaleta are all out. However, David Silva does return to the squad.
Long is in for Southampton because Graziano Pelle is suspended and Jay Rodriguez has been ruled out for eight weeks. There are no other new injury problems for the Hampshire side.