Time to soil Saints’ clean sheets – Southampton v Man City

Four wins in a demanding quartet of games would go a long way to decontaminating a season that many believe could yet become a toxic wasteland for Manchester City.

Having lost their grip on the League Cup, they have fallen nine points behind domestic table-toppers Chelsea and progression in the Champions League depends on a do-or-die gladiator clash with the Romans next month.

Cleaning up - Let's get back to winning ways and wiping out the opposition. Courtesy @MCFC

Cleaning up – Let’s get back to winning ways and wiping out the opposition. Courtesy @MCFC

Up next are Southampton and Sunderland away, Everton at home and then the shoot-out in Rome.

City start their four-match run against a side who many thought would have been all washed up following a mass exodus in the summer…how wrong could they be?

Southampton have been the surprise package of the season thus far, sitting two points clear of City in second place, despite the sales of Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Calum Chambers.

Saints’ boss Ronald Koeman is the Widow Twankey of the Premier League with his team keeping more clean sheets than a Chinese laundry – seven in 12 games – having conceded just six goals all season, with only one at home.

Capital punishment - City have already released their grip on the League Cup. Courtesy @MCFC

Capital punishment – City have already released their grip on the League Cup. Courtesy @MCFC

So what happens when the meanest defence comes up against the hottest striker in the top flight of English football?

Sergio Aguero is in the form of life with a goal-a-game in the PL and coming off the back of a sensational hat-trick against Bayern Munich, having gone one-on-one with Manuel Neuer three times, putting the ball past the world’s top keeper each time.

It’s a personal landmark for the 26-year old Argentine as he makes his 100th league appearance in City colours. Thus far he’s bagged 64 PL goals in 99 games.

Ravenous - Sergio has an insatiable appetite for goals. Courtesy@MCFC

Ravenous – Sergio has an insatiable appetite for goals. Courtesy@MCFC

Statistically he scores at a faster rate than any other player since the Premier League was founded in 1992.

In total Aguero has netted on 92 occasions in 140 games for City, and the sooner he gets to a 100 goals, the sooner Manuel Pellegrini’s men can shape up as a team capable of retaining their PL title and progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League.

City were fortunate to escape from St Mary’s with a 1-1 draw last season, and ordinarily a similar result would not be a disaster, given the Saints form of eight wins from their last 12 league games.

But with Chelsea dropping two points at Sunderland this is an opportunity, albeit a far from easy chance, to narrow the gap on Mourinho’s men to six points.

Saint Sergio - Aguero wheels away to celebrate scoring in City's 1-1 draw at Southampton last December. Courtesy @MCFC

Saint Sergio – Aguero wheels away to celebrate scoring in City’s 1-1 draw at Southampton last December. Courtesy @MCFC

Pellegrini has already raised the bar saying he wants City to win eight league games on the bounce through to the end of 2014. So far, it’s one down and seven to go.

David Silva – the Spanish magician who is the only real rival to Aguero as City’s all-time greatest player – will once again be missing as he recovers from knee ligament damage. This will be his sixth game on the sidelines and his creativity is a massive loss.

Balkan duo Aleksander Kolarov and Edin Dzeko are also out, but Yaya Toure and Fernandinho come back into contention after midweek bans in Europe.

Calling card - AK47 is still missing and out of action. Courtesy@MCFC

Calling card – AK47 is still missing and out of action. Courtesy@MCFC

The City boss has to strike the balance between continuity and player fatigue, so almost inevitably, changes will be made from the unlikely heroes who bombed out Bayern on Tuesday.

Frank Lampard was outstanding against the Germans, bringing his experience and guile to the party but, having played the full 90 minutes, his 36-year old limbs might appreciate a time out.

Yaya and ‘Dino’ will surely start with perhaps James Milner dropping to the subs bench. Samir Nasri – not hugely influential in midweek – is nonetheless, capable of the creativity to generate openings for Aguero and livewire Stevan Jovetic.

Take a bow - Super Frankie Lampard has been superb in his short spell with City. Courtesy@MCFC

Take a bow – Super Frankie Lampard has been superb in his short spell with City. Courtesy@MCFC

Jesus Navas will probably get the nod with the task of targeting the Saints’ thrifty defence, getting behind it and pulling the ball back to City’s SAS strikeforce of Sergio & Stevan.

The jury is still out on Navas, despite him being a champion in his debut season. His lightning pace is a real asset, but too often he opts to cut inside instead of beating his man down the flank.

Similarly his final ball is often found wanting, but not always – his assist for Jovetic’s opener against Swansea being Exhibit A for Jesus’ defence.

Expect to see Zabaleta restored at right back for his overlapping ability. That’s not a poor reflection on Sagna against Bayern where he looked very solid, it’s just he doesn’t possess Zaba’s natural zest and zeal for the wing back role.

Sweet Jesus - Navas needs to ruffle Southampton's defence with his speed. Courtesy @MCFC

Sweet Jesus – Navas needs to ruffle Southampton’s defence with his speed. Courtesy @MCFC

The complication with a marauding Pablo is that he and Navas have an annoying habit of denying each other space on the right side of City’s attacking formation.

They don’t seem to complement each other, something that if rectified, would provide far more potency in City’s forward play.

In defence, Eliaquim Mangala gave a controlled and effective CL performance, so is he ready to once again partner Vincent Kompany in the centre of the back four?

Rising star - Mangala is the future at centre back for City, but is also the man for the present? Courtesy@MCFC

Rising star – Mangala is the future at centre back for City, but is also the man for the present? Courtesy@MCFC

Will Mangala’s pace and power help contain Graziano Pelle and Shane Long, more so than the calm and experience of Martin Demichelis? If City’s £32m man is ready to step up to the plate after an ‘eventful’ beginning to his career at the Etihad, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

A fourth away win would see City leapfrog Southampton into second spot and send out a statement that the Champions are finally on the rise again.

Squad rotation and selection are essential given that City come up against their bogiest of bogey teams on Wednesday – Sunderland away – the Stadium of Light, where the Sky Blues are decidedly dim.

Same again please Yaya - City's Toure De Force can propel City to seven more league wins in 2014. Courtesy@MCFC

Same again please Yaya – City’s Toure De Force can propel City to seven more league wins in 2014. Courtesy@MCFC

God forbid City having the usual 74% of the possession and end up losing one bloody nil for a fifth consecutive trip to Wearside.

It’s time to break the cycle but, with the Black Cats purring after their stalemate with Chelsea, it’ll be time for the champions to claw out a win, any which way.

They say football’s a funny old game – Southampton beat Sunderland 8-0 and then Gus Poyet’s men render Chelsea scoreless.

If City can take six points off those two teams in red and white stripes, it’ll certainly have the travelling fans chuckling as they go to opposite ends of the country within 96 hours.

Blowing the whistle on under achievement - Manuel must get his team working harder. Courtesy@MCFC

Blowing the whistle on under achievement – Manuel must get his team working harder. Courtesy@MCFC

Both will be intense affairs and although City have the undoubted class and talent to succeed, they have to align that to a more physically intense presence.

If Pellegrini is to get a maximum points haul before Big Ben brings in 2015 he has to get his team working harder, pressing opponents, squeezing the space…just as ‘lesser’ teams do to City.

If the desire is there,it can and will be done. Similarly there has to be a radical upgrade in the diatribe of rubbish that flows from each City corner.

Disappeared - Spanish magician David Silva needs to re-appear for City ASAP!Courtesy@MCFC

Disappeared – Spanish magician David Silva needs to re-appear for City ASAP!Courtesy@MCFC

If there’s no improvement in the corner kicking department City may have to instigate extra security precautions when training resumes at the new splendiferous Etihad Campus.

Beware of sniper fire…because somebody on the coaching staff will want shooting!

 #TrustOurMP

 

By David Walker

COMPETITION TIME

Read But Never Red is delighted to partner with Manchester City to be able to offer one lucky reader the chance to savour a behind–the-scenes journey around the Etihad in the company of a City Legend.

The Legends Stadium & Club Tour - we've two tickets worth £140 for one lucky winner.

The Legends Stadium & Club Tour – we’ve two tickets worth £140 for one lucky winner.

For the opportunity to win two tickets for the superb £70 a-head Manchester City LEGENDS STADIUM & CLUB TOUR all you have to do is tell us is:

How many appearances did Jeff Whitley make in the City first team between 1996 & 2003?

Perfect host - Jeff Whitley made a 133 first team appearances in City's colours.

Perfect host – Jeff Whitley made 133 first team appearances in City’s colours.

You can enter the competition via a host of social media by using the #MCFCLegendsTour & stating the number of games Jeff played.

Please send your answers via:

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