Manchester City host Southampton on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium, with hopes of making amends for their recent trend of poor results.
Both the teams will be coming into the game on the back of an European defeat, with Manchester City succumbing to a 4-0 loss to Barcelona in Champions League while Southampton losing out to Inter in a narrow 1-0 defeat in Europa League.
Tactics and probable line-up
Manchester City are currently placed at the top of the Premier League table with 19 points after 8 games but only by virtue of goal difference, with the in-form Arsenal breathing right down their necks with the same points tally.
Pep Guardiola’s men started the season brightly, full of attacking flair, intricate movements between the players and of course goals. They won each of their first 6 games, scoring 18 goals in the process.
The Citizens were praised for how quickly the team seemed to have adapted to Pep’s idea of football. However, the manager continued to insist the team is still a work in progress and nowhere near a finished product. And we did witness why that was the case after Spurs comprehensively outclassed Manchester City at White Hart Lane.
City did respond with a much better performance in their next league match against Everton, but had to be satisfied with only a point after Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero missed their penalties.
Since Guardiola’s arrival in England, we have already seen City play a high pressing game, play out from the back, full-backs in midfield and a 3-2-2-3 formation among others. Pep’s unpredictability with the playing system means it’s difficult to suggest how exactly will City line-up in their next match. But after considering the injury concerns (no Zabaleta and Sagna) agaisnt Southampton, there’s a good possibility this is how the playing XI may look like on Sunday.
Predicted XI (3-2-2-3): Bravo; Otamendi, Stones, Clichy; Fernandinho, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Silva; Sane, Aguero, Sterling.
Sane (or Navas) and Sterling (or Nolito) will be asked to stay high wide to stretch Southampton’s backline as much as possible. They’ll try to beat the full-backs on every given opportunity either on the inside or the outside, and deliver in a cross or cut-back for the likes of Aguero, Silva and De Bruyne.
Silva and De Bruyne will be the primary play-makers tasked with orchestrating City’s play and finding the runs of Aguero, Sane and Sterling.
To support the play-makers, Fernandinho and Gundogan will be right behind them, sniffing out the Southampton attacks and finding Silva and De Bruyne in dangerous spaces.
Otamendi, Stones and Clichy should form the 3 man defense, with Stones stepping in midfield periodically to create numerical superiority in the middle of the park.
Southampton are placed at the eight spot with 12 points, after a tough start which saw the Saints go win-less in their first 4 league matches. But the team has started to respond to manager Claude Puel’s direction, picking up three wins and a draw in their last four matches in the Premier League.
Puel is a pragmatic manager who will try to maximize on City’s deficiency, particularly with their defense. Southampton will sit back and allow City to have the ball, waiting to pounce on the counter every time they lose possession. City’s defense can struggle defending against strikers with pace, so it would make sense to start the pair of Charlie Austin and Nathan Redmond, as Shane Long is injured, in a 4-4-2 diamond formation.
Dusan Tadic has been one of their standout players creating the most chances in the league, and is expected to play a the tip of the diamond. Romeu will be the deepest midfielder, with Hojbjerg and Steven Davies on the sides. The three midfielders will have the huge task of breaking down the wave after wave of City attacks, which make the performances of those three very important if Southampton are to get something from the game.
Southampton have conceded the third lowest goals with 7, and a good chunk of the credit must go to their centre-backs, Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte. With fitness of three of their full-backs – Bertrand, Cedric and Targett in doubt, Puel might have to go with the same pair of full-backs that started against Inter – Cuco Martina at right-back and makeshift Sam Mcqueen at left-back. The ever reliable Fraser Forster will be between the sticks on Sunday, like always.
New signing Sofiane Boufal could also potentially be the game-changer that Southampton could utilize from the bench against the tired legs of City late on in the game.
Predicted XI (4-4-2 diamond): Forster; Martina, Fonte, van Dijk, Mcqueen; Hojbjerg, Romeu, Davies, Tadic; Redmond, Austin.
- Manchester City have won their last 6 home matches against Southampton in all competitions.
- Southampton have collected 51 points in 2016, two more than Manchester City have in the calendar year (49).
- Sergio Aguero hasn’t gone three Premier League games without a goal since December 2015.
- Dusan Tadic has created 28 chances in the Premier League this season, more than any other player, yet hasn’t provided an assist for a teammate yet.
Players to watch out for:
Aguero was dropped for the second successive game last Wednesday, but is a definite starter on Sunday, and as such he will be looking to respond to the manager in the manner he knows best – by scoring goals. Though the striker hasn’t scored in his last 4 appearances, his record for the season stands at 11 goals in 10 matches, impressive by anyone’s standard.
Virgil van Dijk
The Dutch defender has been as good as anyone in his position in the league this season, impressing not only with his defensive qualities and also with his ability on the ball. Claude Puel would be hoping the defender continues his rich form on Sunday and stand firm against the challenges that are going to be posed by Aguero, De Bruyne, Sterling and others.
1. Soton +1.0, +1.5 Asian Handicap @ 1.825
2. City Clean Sheet – NO @ 1.57
1. Goalscorer Match Bet – Charlie Austin over Sergio Aguero @ 5.50
Manchester City must be desperate to get a good result against Southampton after the humiliating loss on Wednesday. While Southampton have been starting to impress lately, the challenge on Sunday does seem a big one. City should win 3-1 but Southampton won’t go down without giving a fight.
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