Pep Guardola's Manchester City make the long journey down south for Saturday's late game. Michael Cox expects goals, and Alan Thompson has an intriguing tip...
"Vincent Kompany can be dragged out to the flanks too easily and can make rash tackles against quick, mobile centre-forwards like Shane Long"
Southampton v Manchester City
Live on BT Sport 1
Match Odds: Southampton 4.84/1, Manchester City 1.84/5, The Draw 4.1.
Manchester City travel to the south coast as strong favourites to take all three points against Southampton, but Claude Puel's side are a well-organised, resilient team who might prove tougher than expected for Pep Guardiola's men.
Puel is forced to cope with a series of absences here - Oriol Romeu is again suspended, Steven Davis and Sofiane Boufal are also rated as doubtful, and there are also concerns about the fitness of Manolo Gabbiadini. Virgil van Dijk is still out. However, none of these concerns are new to Puel, so there's every chance he could name an unchanged side here.
That unchanged side should be in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens have formed an impressive centre-back partnership, and while not the most physically commanding pairing, they probably won't be outmuscled by Sergio Aguero, and more concerned with his running in behind. Quick balls for the Argentine in the channels are likely to be City's main attacking approach.
Full-backs Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares have performed well this season, but are likely to be pushed back by the runs of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane respectively. Sane, in particular, has been in fine form recently and could be City's key man here.
In the midfield zone, Southampton are significantly less solid without Romeu. Jordy Clasie and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg - who played under Guardiola at Bayern - will play the deep roles, but it's easy to envisage them being overrun by the forward movement of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, who are unstoppable when on top form. Romeu could be big miss, as he shields the defence effectively and provides the type of physical power City don't like playing against.
This assumes that City start with a three-man central midfield. If so, it's likely to be Fernandinho anchoring that zone, and he'll be charged with stopping Dusan Tadic, Southampton's tricky, elusive playmaker who darts into pockets of space intelligently. It feels like he plays a particularly key role in this season, and if he's nullified Southampton often struggle to link midfield and attack. Fernandinho, therefore, could be key to stopping Southampton playing.
Out wide, James Ward-Prowse will tuck in slightly and look to threaten City's centre-backs with his crossing ability, while England international Nathan Redmond will be given more license to play higher up the pitch, making runs in behind the City defence. He might also thrive against Jesus Navas, who has coped relatively effectively in his new right-back role, but nevertheless may struggle against an on-form, speedy operator like Redmond.
Upfront, Shane Long should lead the line for Southampton, and he'll focus on drifting into the channels to receive long balls. John Stones should be relatively comfortable against him - he's the type of player that theoretically suits Stones - but Vincent Kompany might find life more difficult. City's captain can be dragged out to the flanks too easily and can make rash tackles against quick, mobile centre-forwards and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him booked here.
Pep Guardiola's final decision is in goal. Willy Caballero and Claudio Bravo haven't impressed in recent weeks, and Guardiola says he no longer has a first-choice goalkeeper, and will pick according to each individual match. Bravo played against Hull and will probably retain his place here, but he doesn't seem to inspire much confidence in his defence, and it would be a slight surprise if City keep a clean sheet here.
I'm expecting goals here. Both Teams To Score suits me, at 1.75/7.