Gameweek 23 is upon us & it promises to be a feisty one. With the Hammers travelling to Old Trafford and a London derby at Stamford Bridge to look forward to, the fixture in focus today is the CITYZENS’ trip to the South coast. Manchester City travel to the St. Mary’s to face Southampton as Guardiola looks to extend his side’s advantage at the top of the table. Southampton managed to hold the runaway leaders to a 0-0 draw at the Etihad when Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men dug deep & pulled off the impossible. After beating title challengers Chelsea, City travel to the south coast in search of their 13th consecutive victory in the League & possibly extending their lead to 16 points at the top of the table. The Saints will certainly be no pushover & will be looking to derail the Guardiola bandwagon.
The mood around St. Mary’s is full of optimism after the club was bought by Dragon Solak, a Serbian billionaire in a deal worth 100 million pounds. Ralph Hasenhuttl is expected to have the full backing of the new ownership & will be entrusted with the responsibility of helping the team finish in the top half of the table. The Southampton faithful are in desperate need of a lift. A team who constantly featured in the top half of the table has been dragged into relegation battles over the past couple of seasons & the fans are hoping that the new ownership will arrest this slump. With that in mind, let us analyze the fixture on Saturday & look at how the sides stack up against each other.
When & Where?
Venue: Saint Mary’s Stadium.
Date: 22nd January 2022.
Time: 17:30 HRS BST.
Referee: Simon Hooper.
Assistant Referees: Simon Long & Derek Eaton.
Fourth Official: Andre Mariner.
VAR: Darren England.
Assistant VAR: Gary Beswick.
It’s hard to imagine a team, whose manager has never missed an opportunity to criticize the fixture pile-up in the league has managed to maintain a fully fit squad for the majority of the season. Manchester City were rocked by a massive covid outbreak prior to their FA Cup 3rd round fixture with as many as 21 players & staff testing positive for Covid. But Guardiola’s men have managed to shake off their covid scare & will have most of their players available for selection on Saturday. Nathan Ake missed the potential title decider against Chelsea with a knock but has since resumed training & might possibly be involved in the matchday squad. Zinchenko & Cole Palmer have still not recovered from injuries, & will not feature in Guardiola’s matchday squad. Riyad Mahrez has departed for the AFCON in Cameroon but is expected to link up with the squad after the International Break.
The Saints on the other hand have injury problems of their own. Ralph Hasenhuttl has had to deal with an injury-ravaged squad for the majority of the season & it seems as if the situation isn’t improving. Theo Walcott and Mohamed Elyounoussi tested positive for Covid-19 after the trip to Wolves & look set to miss the game against City. Valentino Livramento, the fullback who has earned laurels for his performances in a Southampton shirt continues to recover from a knee problem & won’t be available for selection. Moussa Djenepo has also been a big miss for the Saints as he remains on international duty for Mali at the AFCON. Goalkeeper Alex Mccarthy, another player who has been the standout performer for Southampton looks set to return in goal having missed the last 8 games with injury. Further, Kyle Walker-Peters has recovered for Covid & might find himself back in the starting 11 against City.
Southampton’s 5 game unbeaten run came to an end when the side lost 3-1 to Wolves in their previous Premier League outing. Hasenhuttl felt the heat in the Saints dugout this season after an underwhelming start to their campaign but he seems to have arrested that slump. A victory against the runaway leaders will help propel the Saints into the top half of the table for the 1st time in what seems an eternity! Ralph Hasenhuttl has tinkered his team’s formation over the course of the season but it seems that he will stick with a solid defensive 3 to combat City’s attacking play. Southampton seems to have mastered the art of playing with a low block, a tactic which they successfully pulled off against City at the Etihad earlier in the season. James Ward Prowse & Oriel Romeu will be tasked with breaking up City’s intricate build-up play in the middle of the park & Broja will provide an attacking outlet for the Saints in transition. Southampton will most certainly be in for a busy night & will have to be at their best to put an end to City’s 12 game winning streak.
Manchester City travel to the south coast in high spirits & will be looking to dismantle the Saints defence. Guardiola will most certainly be expecting a low block from Southampton & will set up his team accordingly. The midfield duo of Bernardo Silva & Kevin de Bruyne will be tasked with acting as the nucleus of City’s attacking build-up play. With Mahrez missing, Sterling & Foden will be looking to make late runs into the box, as well as running rings on Southampton defenders with their intricate build-up play. Gabriel Jesus might prove to be the key to Guardiola’s success in this game as a false 9 as his ability to drop deep & link up with the midfielders will allow players such s Foden & Sterling to tuck in & play more centrally, making searching runs into the box. Rodri will be tasked with preventing the Saints from launching counterattacks & stopping the likes of Broja in their tracks. An early goal might swing things in favour of the reigning champions but Guardiola’s men won’t be taking anything for granted.
James Ward Prowse:
The Southampton talisman just can’t stop putting in a man of the match performances week in & week out. He scored another 35-yard worldie for the Saints in the defeat to Wolves & is constantly proving to be a cut above the rest in that Southampton squad. The fans will again be hoping for a stellar performance from their club captain who will have his work cut out against a lethal Manchester City side. Ward Prowse will be tasked with stopping the likes of Bernardo Silva & Kevin De Bruyne from controlling the middle of the park & settling into the game. Furthermore, his dead-ball prowess seems to be the best option for Southampton to put the ball into Ederson’s net. City press the middle of the pitch with high intensity & Ward Prowse’s knack for quickly transitioning the ball from attack to defence might be the only possible route for Southampton to bring their strike partnership of Broja& Adams into the mix.
The Portuguese magician has been in scintillating form for Man City. A player who looked destined to leave in the summer has now cemented his position in the starting 11 for Pep Guardiola’s team. Southampton’s low block will most certainly prove to be a tough nut to crack for any opposition outfit, but Silva’s presence in the middle of the park might give City the cutting edge they require. His ability to constantly drift into pockets of spaces & threading balls in between the narrow defensive lines might prove to be the key to unlocking a stubborn Southampton defence. His link-up play with the likes of De Bruyne, Foden, Sterling & Jesus is unparalleled & he will have to be at his very best if City wishes to extend their lead at the top of the table.
Southampton predicted XI: Forster, Bednarek, Lyanco, Salisu, Walker-Peters, Diallo, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Perraud, Adams, Broja.
Manchester City predicted XI: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo, De Bruyne, Rodri, B. Silva, Jesus, Foden, Sterling.