Southampton vs Manchester City | Sunday 30 November | St. Mary's Stadium | 15:30
Ronald Koeman’s enchanting Southampton side face their biggest test thus far as they welcome the Premier League champions to St. Mary’s Stadium on Sunday. Manchester City boast the better head-to-head record as they have won four of the last six meetings between the sides, suffering just one defeat. However, that defeat came last year and Koeman’s men won't be quaking in their boots as Manuel Pellegrini's side are still some way short of their free-flowing best. The Saints are in the form of their lives.
To Win (90mins)
Manchester City 5/4
Southampton conceded their first Premier League goal since the start of October as they fought back to draw 1-1 with Aston Villa on Monday night. The Saints were disappointing, offering none of the swagger and artistry with which they have been entertaining this season and will welcome the return to St. Mary’s where they are unbeaten, winning five of their six matches, scoring a superb seventeen goals while conceding just one. Southampton's fairy tale voyage under new manager Koeman has seen them enjoy their best ever start to a top flight season, having earned 26 points from twelve league games. Southampton have outperformed the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham thus far, which is extremely pleasing to Saints fans, many of whom were resigning themselves to a relegation battle in the summer. Now, they are dreaming of an unprecedented improvement on last season’s eighth-place finish and a place in the top four is certainly within their reach.
The influx of attacking talent in the shape of Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane has had an immediate impact; the Saints' success this season has largely been built on a strong spine. Club captain Jose Fonte is proving to be the leader that everyone believed Dejan Lovren to be, and his blossoming partnership with Belgian international Toby Alderweireld has helped the South Coast club establish themselves as the best defence in the league. Not failing to impress, Victor Wanyama is a formidable physical presence in the Saints’ midfield, and the 23-year-old takes charge in the middle of the park. Alongside the ever-reliable Morgan Schneiderlin, Wanyama assumes part of a rock-solid defensive unit and the presence of the Kenyan allows his partner more freedom. Together, the pair are proving indispensable and City can expect a real battle. Pelle has scored nine goals this season, six of them coming in the league and he will be the focal point in Koeman’s attack.
Manchester City came from behind to get a much needed three points against a resilient Swansea side at the Etihad Stadium last weekend. Wilfried Bony gave the Welsh side the lead inside the opening ten minutes, before goals from Stevan Jovetic and Yaya Toure turned things around for the reigning Premier League champions. Manchester City are in third place, eight points off Chelsea who lead the standings with 32 points and two points behind their opponents who sit comfortably behind the leaders on 26 points. The Sky Blues have been experiencing something of an identity crisis recently and have lacked poise, rhythm and panache. The Citizens have won just seven of their twelve matches this season, drawing three times and suffering two defeats to Stoke and West Ham. City are heavily reliant on Sergio Aguero but he alone cannot be expected to carry the side through every possible obstacle and the champions need to start gelling together.
City desperately need this victory to trim the gap and reinvigorate their stuttering title defence but it won’t be as easy as the head-to-head record suggests. The defence is an area that needs restoring as Pellegrini’s side are conceding goals too cheaply. Last weekend, Vincent Kompany was not at his commanding best, perhaps because he is not fully fit. But too many times the City defence was undone and if Swansea can cause that level of concern, Southampton will have a field day if things aren't tightened up. Ivorian midfielder Toure still isn't at his all-conquering best, but he showed glimpses that he could be somewhere close soon. The swagger and presence he had built his reputation on is slowly re-emerging and he has proved the clichéd adage about form and class: one is temporary, and the other permanent. Pellegrini will be yearning to see Toure and Fernandinho back to the form that made Manchester City's midfield a potent force last season. David Silva (knee), Aleksandar Kolarov (calf) and Edin Dzeko (calf) are all still out, but City will feel they have the players to cope with those absentees.
VERDICT: Southampton 22/10
Southampton have been an irresistible force at home this season while Manchester City have struggled on their travels. They’ve matched City with goals scored (24) and conceded seven less. City’s last away match ended in a 2-2 draw at QPR and Southampton with home advantage look well worth a punt at 22/10.