Venue: St Mary’s Stadium
Date: 15 April 2017
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Kick off: 17:30
We’re on the home stretch. City’s first Premier League campaign under the leadership of Pep Guardiola is reaching an end; City however, still have work to do. With a top four finish still not guaranteed by any stretch, the Blues will need to be sharp. It’s a visit to Southampton on Saturday. So, what is there to consider?
Players Must Earn Their Minutes
It’s really easy to look at the options around the squad and decide who are the ‘better’ players. Of course, Vincent Kompany (when fit) is a colossal machine who would slot into most teams in world football. Fernandinho has been perhaps City’s most consistent performer for the last four seasons. Kevin De Bruyne is one of the league’s best, on his day. However, I think that City need to seriously come away from this reputation-based way of fielding an XI. Of the three players I’ve mentioned above, none are on form. Though for different reasons, the point remains – none of those players are playing consistently at a high level right now. For that reason, none of them should be starting games for City at the moment. It’s so easy to look at all three names and think that they should be instantly inserted into a City XI, but why? The reality is, none of them are offering any more than players that have been recently featuring. I look at the centre-halves, people love to complain about how weak we are in that area of the pitch. I tend to disagree. In John Stones we have a fast-developing, stacked-with-potential youngster who is getting better every game. However, his partners haven’t been too bad either. Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov are hardly anyone’s favourite players, but neither has done tons wrong this season, and until they do, the likes of Kompany will have to wait. In central midfield, the situation of Fernandinho has been dire of late. Since his beyond stupid red card against Chelsea months ago, he never really seems to have recovered enough to have produced any decent form. There have been the odd games here and there, but generally speaking – inconsistent. Against Chelsea, Fabian Delph was thrown into the mix; he handled himself well. The following game against Hull, Delph turned in a performance that included a goal, but more importantly, included poise. He looked completely comfortable pulling strings in City’s midfield. Whilst it is hard to see where De Bruyne’s replacement per sé actually is, it’s less difficult to see why the young Belgian has been dropped. A string of lifeless performances has left De Bruyne a little bit phased out at the moment; if he’s to work his way back into the starting XI, he’ll need to produce a lot more in the coming weeks. I like what Guardiola is doing at the moment, but it must continue – players must earn their minutes.
A Champions League Finish is Integral to the Summer
How many of us have one eye firmly on the FA Cup semi-final in a weeks time and the other eye on a summer of spending? I know I do. However, the importance of securing a top four finish cannot be understated. An FA Cup win would be a joyous occasion and in all honesty, I find it hard to not see that as the priority at the moment. At times though, the bigger picture has to be considered. The reports this week have centered around City’s apparent intentions to sign Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez this summer. What a signing it would be. Add him to a list of names: Bonucci, Lacazette, Laporte, Mbappé, Mendy, Fabinho – it makes for pretty reading. One thing holds that list together though, the promise of Champions League football. You might be naive enough to think that Pep Guardiola’s sweet words on the telephone might be enough to tempt some players into joining City, and I’m sure they do no harm. But when all is said and done, if we are not in Europe’s biggest club competition, it won’t matter. The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Leonardo Bonucci especially are not (at their age) going to join a side who has to wait another year to play in the Champions League. They’re players who want trophies, and they want them now. It makes games like Saturday’s at Southampton just as important in many respects as the FA Cup semi-final. We must finish in the top four, or else the whole project stalls, and with it, Guardiola’s time at City is being wasted.
Leroy Sané Could Do With a Big Game
One of the concerns of the last few weeks has been Leroy Sané’s dip in form. Obviously, it should be noted that Leroy is a young guy in only his second season a professional footballer. However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that our young German prodigy has been poor in his last couple of games. He’s been one of the brightest sparks of the entire season, but needs to be careful that he doesn’t end up losing his place to the likes of Nolito or Jesus Navas, especially with a massive game against Arsenal coming up. If he starts tomorrow, Leroy could really do with a consistent, high-level performance that cements his place in the starting XI again. Otherwise, he risks becoming one of the players I spoke about earlier, who isn’t really earning his minutes on the pitch. I’d like to see him do a little bit more work defensively and help his full-back out, as at times it has cost City this season. On the other hand, his offensive powers are what City paid for, so I’d also like to see him getting at his man again and beating him. If teams are starting to mark Sané more vigilantly, the youngster must find an answer to the questions he’s posed with.
Southampton are doing alright this season. They’re sat comfortably in 9th place, having also contested a League Cup final with United a couple of months back. They drew with City at the Etihad earlier in the year, though their record at home isn’t very strong – with only 22 points this season. Only five sides have been less productive on home soil.
I think this is a really tough game to call, Southampton are a sporadic side who are hard to predict. I’ll go with 2-1 City, Sterling and Aguero to score. I’ll also make a bold prediction and say that it’ll be the first time since 1912 (just kidding, it’s in the ’90s though) that City have come from behind to win away in the league when losing at half-time.