It was a case of Sin City last time Manchester’s boys in blue went up against the Saints as Mancini’s men virtually gift wrapped the title for the Trafford troglodytes.
The 3-1 defeat at St Mary’s was typified by a Joe Hart howler and a gorgeous Gareth Barry right foot strike…past the aforementioned City keeper, in City’s poorest ‘performance’ of a disappointing defence of their Premier League crown.
Irony of ironies, both Joe and Gareth will be absent from City’s line-up against a Southampton side boasting more England internationals than Manuel Pellegrini’s star-studded cosmopolitan collection of global ‘names’.
Lambert, Lallana and Rodriquez will most likely start against a City side which, at a stretch, might include James Milner from the outset. Messrs Hart, Richards, Rodwell and Lescott are likely benchwarmers, with Pellegrini favouring the Spanish-Latino approach.
Not that City fans will be complaining if a non-English XI can secure a third away PL win of the season and ramp up the pressure, before league leading Arsenal come to the Etihad.
Wednesday’s romp at West Brom (the 3-2 scoreline doesn’t come close to reflecting City’s dominance) could finally signal that City are stepping up to the PL title challenge, both home and away.
As the top flight’s goal-scoring gluttons (City have hit 40, 10 more than anyone else) they would have been forgiven for thinking they might have been coming up against the league’s stingiest defence, with Saints having conceded just five goals in their first 11 games.
But Mauricio Pochettino’s over achievers have leaked eight goals in the last three matches as they’ve slumped to a trio of consecutive defeats – the team’s worst run under his watch.
The surprise package of the first third of the season, Southampton lost two key performers in the mid-week reversal to Aston Villa. Injuries to Victor Wanyama and Nathaniel Clyne will further weaken a team already having a bit of a wobble.
It bodes well for City who are bristling with confidence now that their on-field leader, Vincent Kompany, is bank in the ranks.
In stark contrast to Southampton, City are on their best PL run under Pellegrini and a win at St. Mary’s would be their fourth on the bounce. It would secure a top three place, possibly get them into second spot, before Wenger’s boys go head-to-head with City next weekend in the big early season shoot-out.
Woe betide City if they are stupid enough to get beyond themselves. Pellegrini should play video footage of the shameful shambles from last February to avoid any hint of complacency.
It’s incredible to think that this game is, in the greater scheme of things, more important than playing Bayern Munich – the reigning European Champions – in the final Group D fixture in the Champions League. Three points dropped in Bavaria will do far less damage than if City were to once again fall to the Saints.
A win, and it needs to be a win, against injury stricken Saints, will maintain the gathering momentum behind Manuel’s marauders, which still has them as the bookies favourites for the PL crown.
Whether Pellegrini opts to tinker with the perpetually changing back four remains to be seen. Matija Nastasic will be missing due to an ongoing calf injury, so veteran Demichelis could be pitted against raging bull, Rickie Lambert.
Costel Pantilimon is almost certain to retain his place despite conceding two goals – one an own goal – at The Hawthorns. In fairness he was not culpable for either.
With David Silva likely missing – or perhaps lined up for a cameo appearance from the sub’s bench – the magnificent Samir Nasri will continue with the lightning Jesus Navas, as the architects for City’s goal flow.
Supported by the midfield platform of the fast emerging Fernandinho and the formidable Yaya Toure, City will endeavour to keep the supply lines stocked for super Sergio and every PL defender’s nightmare, Alvaro Negredo.
On present form, Aguero is being bracketed with Messi and Ronaldo among the elite group of strikers across the globe. 16 goals scored in the last 14 matches is reason enough for Southampton to be apprehensive about the Argentine hitman…and that’s before they contemplate a hungry Beast, chomping at the bit after Negredo was ‘rested’ for the trip to the Black Country.
Four away defeats and the slipshod showing of conceding two goals in the last five minutes at WBA will surely mean City will be ultra wary of producing a sub-standard performance.
It’s a game that will test City’s resolve and one that fits perfectly into the football cliché bracket of needing to ‘earn the right to play’.
City’s best form of defence is attack, so in the same way as they binned Steve Clarke’s previously resolute Baggies, they need to put Saints on the back foot from the off.
High octane, fast flowing football should get the job done and that means keeping both Dzeko and Garcia off the field of play.
That may sound harsh but City’s loyal travelling support want to see players prepared to give their all.
Fans who pay top dollar and travel the length and breadth of the country will not put up with ‘passengers’ in their team. Some high profile prima donnas have done little or nothing to address negative perceptions in recent weeks.
In this, the most hotly contested of PL seasons, City have already slipped up more than they could have envisaged, and yet still find themselves right in the mix.
Who knows, City may have already had their dip in form? Just savour that thought for a moment…
Traditionally we’ve always had to listen to the media waxing lyrical about Manure and their big post Christmas surge to the title. How it would stick in their craw if it were the blue side of Manchester who powered through the New Year to glory.
Saints and sinners has an almost biblical connotation to it.
On that basis City must do unto others as they would have them do to you. If you relate that back to last February the lesson is clear – City have to exorcise their demons and stuff Southampton.
By David Walker #READBUTNEVERRED @djwskyblu