Ahead of Manchester City's visit to St Mary's this Sunday, we spoke to Manchester Evening News reporter Stuart Brennan about Manuel Pellegrini's team.
How is this game being viewed at City, given that it falls between the two legs of their Champions League semi-final?
It’s wedged between two huge games for City, but they can’t lose sight of the fact that qualification for next season’s Champions League is probably more important than them beating Real Madrid. It’s something Pellegrini has juggled quite well in the last month or so – he’s managed to keep both plates spinning and done it quite well with the way he’s rotated his squad.
What impact do you think the timing of the game might have on Manuel Pellegrini's team selection?
If you look at last time, the Paris Saint-Germain quarter-final, where they played them in the space of a week and played West Brom in between, he made five changes. Now, he’s a little bit more inhibited this time, because he hasn’t got Samir Nasri, who’s injured, David Silva’s out and Yaya Touré is probably out, so it sort of restricts him a little bit, but he’ll definitely make changes. The two full-backs, I would think, possibly rest Vincent Kompany, and Fernando’s probably due a rest as well. But he tends to put big names on the bench, like last week when they played Stoke and they had Kevin De Bruyne.
What is City's style of play like right now?
It’s very much a possession game, although they can play on the counter as well. But in a Premier League game like this they would look to play on the ball and try and press high – although, having said that, they’ve played so many games that the energetic pressing style has gone by the wayside a little bit, but they’re a good footballing side and are always looking to attack. They’ve also improved defensively in the last six weeks or so. They’ve shored it up a little bit.
Of the players you think might be involved, who are likely to be City's biggest threats?
De Bruyne’s been brilliant this season. He’s come in first season and there’s no sign of him needing time to settle. Right from day one he was at it. He really looks like a world-class player. The obvious one is Sergio Agüero. Five seasons on and he’s still a danger – probably more of a danger than he ever was. He always looks likely to score. I think Southampton have found out in the past that he’s a real handful in and around the box. For me, the player of the season has been Fernandinho, who’s the unsung hero. He gets very little praise, but I think people saw a little bit of what he’s about in midweek against Real Madrid – lots of drive, lots of energy, breaks up attacks and sets the team going forward.
What sort of a game are you expecting to see?
Southampton are always tough. I know City went there and won comfortably last season, but it was 0-0 at half-time and Morgan Schneiderlin went off and that changed the course of it. I honestly don’t think they’d be too disappointed if they came away with a point, given the circumstances, then once they’ve got the second leg of Real Madrid out the way they can really focus on winning the last two games and making sure of that top-sour spot.