Manchester City travel to St Mary’s on Sunday for a crucial match against Southampton, one they absolutely must win to stay in touch with Liverpool, who are threatening to become runaway leaders of the Premier League.
City’s sudden and shocking downturn in form has seen them drop from 1st to 3rd place, below Tottenham and a whole seven points behind Klopp’s Liverpool, meaning three points is a must ahead of the home tie with the Kopites in January.
Guardiola can ill afford to make any selection mistakes and will be conscious of that when he picks his team. So how will the champions line up against the Saints?
The good news is that Vincent Kompany, Gabriel Jesus and (hallelujah!) Fernandinho trained on Friday. The bad news is that doesn’t guarantee they’ll play, with Pep unsure at his rescheduled Saturday press conference if they will feature.
Other than those three, it’s the usual situation with Benjamin Mendy (expected back in February) and Claudio Bravo on the shelf.
Fabian Delph is unavailable through suspension after his straight red card against Leicester.
Ederson hasn’t been keeping clean sheets lately but nor has he been making big mistakes. City have to tighten up at the back and the shut-outs will follow with the Brazilian a top-class goalkeeper.
Danilo failed to shine against Leicester and given the rotation in this period, we can expect Kyle Walker back against Southampton. Hopefully the rest has done him well as his form has dropped off massively. Danilo could be an option for left-back with Delph out, but more likely it’ll be Oleksandr Zinchenko. With the left and right-back issues, might Pep consider going back to three central defenders in a 3-5-2 with wingers instead of full-backs?
At centre-back, Kompany’s leadership could be an option with the problems that have developed in City’s defence, but Guardiola is more likely to opt for John Stones and Aymeric Laporte.
The big question is whether Fernandinho will be ready. The indications from journalists such as Sam Lee during the week is he won’t be ready, but Guardiola offered hope. We can only guess but we reckon he won’t start this, and it’ll be Ilkay Gundogan in the holding role again. Joining Gundogan will be David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, who should both start if fully fit. Guardiola could consider KDB in the holding role given his work rate and tenacity, with the two Silvas more advanced, but that’d be a surprise.
Sané and Sterling have started City’s previous two games so we might see a change on Sunday with Riyad Mahrez given a start to freshen things up. If so, I’d expect him to come in for Sterling on the right, with Leroy Sané on the left side.
Up-front, Sergio Aguero hasn’t scored in his three appearances since returning from injury, but his work rate against Leicester couldn’t be faulted and he set up Bernardo’s goal. Hopefully he can start finding the net again against the Saints.
That leaves the bench, which should look something like: Aro Muric, Danilo, Nicolas Otamendi, Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus. If Fernandinho or Gabriel Jesus are not available, then it’ll be Phil Foden on the bench.