15:00 BST, Sunday 13th May, St Mary’s Stadium (Southampton, England) Sky Sports Mix
Southampton’s midweek win over Swansea wiped away a swath of fear for the South coast club but they still have reason to remain anxious. A nine-point cushion in goal difference is all that separates them from relegation with the Swans now under new management and facing the league’s leakiest defence in their final game.
Mark Hughes side have not lost in their last four games as they’ve slowly edged back into form, but picking up the solitary valuable point they need to ensure safety could prove trickier than it sounds.
The Cityzens have brushed most teams aside with a nonchalant footballing style as they’ve swept themselves towards an emphatic league title this season.
Dropping only seven points away from home in the league and averaging three goals per game across their last five games on the road, they will have no fear in travelling to the South coast for their final match.
Having lost as many games as they’ve won (two) from their previous five visits to St Mary’s, they perhaps shouldn’t replace nonchalance with over-confidence, a problem which caused a minor stumble against the Terriers last weekend who also sought a point for safety.
Last Time Out
Swansea City 0-1 Southampton (Premier League)
The Saints claimed a victory which all-but sunk two teams to relegation and left them on the verge of safety. The match produced little quality as both sides failed to contain their nerves which made them afraid of taking risks through fear of failure.
The decisive goal didn’t arrive until the 72nd minute by which point both teams were still looking to find their natural rhythm.
Manolo Gabbiadini, a substitute who came on to replace centre back Jan Bednarek, rewarded Hughes for his bolder approach to winning the game. The goal itself was a scrappily bundled effort after the ball had broken loose from a corner, however, it was not a time for style over substance for either team.
The final 20 minutes saw the Southampton defenders stand tall to an aerial barrage which lacked grace and accuracy before the final whistle saw them walking tall towards the tunnel.
Manchester City 3-1 Brighton & Hove Albion (Premier League)
City set new records for the most points collected and most goals scored in a Premier League season against the team they first faced in this campaign back in August. Guardiola made eight changes to the team which started their 0-0 draw against Huddersfield, Yaya Touré being the notable inclusion in central midfield.
It was the final game in a City shirt for Touré who has found game-time scarce this season, yet he rolled the clock slightly backwards to produce a commendable performance which did him no disservice.
Although he couldn’t find his way onto the scoresheet, Danilo and Bernardo Silva gave the home side the lead going into the break despite Brighton briefly pulling even midway through the half.
A third goal came courtesy of Fernandinho, who was playing slightly higher up the pitch due to Touré’s involvement, and it was enough to see off a spirited display from the Seagulls and return City back to winning ways.
Maya Yoshida returns from suspension but the Saints will still be without Steven Davis (ankle) while both Mario Lemina (hamstring) and Jan Bednarek (head) are considered doubtful to start too.
Manchester City Lineup
Sergio Agüero (knee) remains the only blemish on Guardiola’s otherwise injury-free squad and is likely to field a strong team for his side’s final game of the season.
Key Battle: Alex McCarthy (Southampton) vs Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
The Southampton keeper replaced the once-safe hands of Fraser “the beast” Forster in goal this season and in doing so, became a standout player in their season for his club.
Southampton’s main aim in this match could become damage-limitation against the City-slickers and McCarthy again will be the Saints last, and strongest line of defence.
Despite only recording four clean sheets from his 17 league starts, two of those have arrived in the last four matches and his impressive form has made him a late contender to join the England squad this summer.
After being rested in City’s midweek match, Sterling is fully expected to return the starting lineup this weekend. With Agüero out of the team, Sterling will be their highest scorer (18 league goals) by some considerable distance.
Having been directly involved in 35 Premier League goals from his 33 league appearances, he’s still, somehow, been unable to shake off a stigma of wastefulness but can further cement his credentials by signing off the season in style.
Fighting the odds
There’s nothing like a good bit of adversity to bring a team together. For Southampton prior to their crucial clash against Swansea last Monday, the Swansea Marriott provided them just that.
The knock-on effect of a late switch in hotel reservations caused a disruption to their travel plans on the way to the stadium. Without a police escort, the team bus got caught in traffic before stadium staff then tried to hold the team on the bus upon their arrival.
The net result was not to agitate the players but to fire an inner resolve within Southampton’s squad.
As a manager who learned under Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s perhaps no surprise that Hughes managed to galvanise such a response. Hughes was part of a Manchester United squad which greatly benefited from a collective mental strength and looks to have maintained this mentality still to this day.
Amongst all the records and personal achievements which City have sent tumbling this season, there was another achieved by Ederson this week.
The Brazilian keeper was partly chosen as City’s goalkeeping answer because of his precise kicking, however, his power was highlighted at their training ground.
With representatives from the Guinness book of records in attendance, Ederson sent a drop-kick 75.35 metres to set a new world record.
His long kick has long been known to be a potent weapon in City’s gameplan but now he has another reason to return to the team this weekend in place of Claudio Bravo started on Wednesday.
Prediction: Southampton 0-2 Manchester City
City’s focus will be sharpened by the chance to become the first members of a new 100-club, a motivation which will worry the Saints. While a defeat will be far from ideal for the home side, they will be more concerned about the margin and it will be a nervy second half which should bring a bitter-sweet ending to their season.