…to get ‘back on track’.
It’s gonna be no ‘walk in the park’ against the South-coasters as we look for our first win in FIVE games; a stat I never thought I’d see under Pep and one that sends a little shudder down my spine if I’m being honest.
The recent stats
Manchester City’s first 10 games in all comps in the 2016 / 17 season:
For (a whopping) 30
Against (a mere) 6
Southampton’s opening 4 fixtures of 2016 / 17 season:
Manchester City’s last 4 games in all comps:
Against (a whopping) 10!
Southampton’s last 8 games in all comps:
Lost 1 (a narrow 1-0’er away to Inter Milan)
Against (just) 2!
What an amazing contrast of form those two team have shown in the opening 2 months of the season and, for us, a somewhat alarming one after an amazing start.
So…is there something wrong (leaking 10 goals in 4 winless games would suggest there is) and if so, what? I’ll try to be as brief as possible and look at areas I think might be part of the issue.
Claudio Bravo, for the most part, scares the hell out of me and has been directly at fault for conceding goals and, in general, putting the rest of the team under FAR too much pressure by ‘doing the footwork thing’ just-far-too-much and for far too long [on the ball]. It might be what his manager wants him to do (and so I think Pep needs to take some of the blame for this) and he might be better than Hart at it BUT…Joe is a far, far better keeper; a better shot-stopper and all-round safer to have in net in my opinion. The England number 1 should never have gone out on loan.
The early-season, incredible form of Aleks Kolarov has nose-dived of late to the point where we’ve hardly even seen the fella on the pitch! How many times have we seen him have 5, 6, 7 or, in this season’s case, 10 good games; only for him to then turn back into the ‘old Kolarov’? Far too many times for me. We now know he’s CAPABLE of such good football - even as a central defender - and, so, we can only hope that he finds that form again.
Other than that - and aside from a few errors ‘here & there’ - I can’t fault the individual, defensive performances too much overall. Particularly Gael Clichy, who I think has been terrific for us whenever Aleks is not in the team. And so…I can’t think of any other defensive reasons for our recent failings. Yeah of course we’ve had Bacary Sagna out for a large percentage of the time but Pablo’s been absolutely fine in his place…but is injured himself again now.
Could it be the role asked of Fernandinho? We don’t necessarily play with a defensive ‘linchpin’ in midfield but the Brazilian - who likes to go forward whenever possible - is usually asked by his manager to sort of sit deeper than the likes of David Silva & Kevin De Bruyne. And so-although he’s having a decent season so far; perhaps there’s a little bit of not quite knowing if he should protect the back 3 or 4 (whatever we’re playing at the time) or support the attack. I dunno…I’m just chucking that one in there.
Could it be a simple as the loss of ‘in form’ Kevin De Bruyne? Well the ‘argument for’ is that he was injured right at the end of our last victory, which was a 3-1 Premier League win away to Swansea City. After that, we conceded 5 goals both in a 3-3 draw away to Celtic in the Champions League before being taught a lesson in some ways at White Hart Lane in a 2-0 defeat. Kevin then came back, somewhat surprisingly for many, for the Everton home game but, despite looking sharp in his comeback game, missed a penalty in a frustrating 1-1 draw. Then he gets chucked in an 'advanced role' away at Barcelona and we register a ‘nil’ in the ‘goals for’ column.
‘A la Aleks Kolarov’, has our form dipped since Sergio Aguero’s inexplicable loss of confidence & form, following some outstanding, early-season displays and goals tally? Perhaps it’s a combination of two of those main elements – losing Kevin for a couple of games and then him-not finding immediate form / impact AND the loss of Sergio’s ‘mojo’.
Raheem too started the season ‘on fire’ but has been less effective of late; Ilkay has been…okay so far and I’m still waiting to see what we’ve bought in Leroy Sane!
I’ve got to add also that this was Kelechi Iheanacho’s big, BIG opportunity to shine under his new manager and although it’s still very early days of course; I’m sorry to have to say that our only other real striking option [to Sergio] is not exactly grabbing that chance with both hands (or should that be feet?).
To their credit, amidst looking for ‘reasons why’; David Silva and Nolito have been in both brilliant & good form respectively.
So why the drop in team form over the last 4 games? Why the sudden ‘leaking massively’ of goals and, also, difficulties in-breaking teams down (Celtic aside)? Why the loss of form of so many individuals and, similarly, confidence?
There were murmurings the other week, I think it was mainly from Fernandinho, that Guardiola’s intensive training sessions / fitness regime was already starting to takes its toll on the bodies of some of the squad. Does that, then, start to have a negative physiological effect also? It’d take better informed people than me to answer that - again I’m just ‘throwing that one in there’ really.
Whatever it is, 'in Pep we trust' of course – we’ve got a manager who MANY, quite rightly, consider to be the best in the world and so there’s no need for any serious alarm. After all, we’re having a little ‘blip’ and yet still remain top of the league [before the early game today] and on course to still-qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League as runners up at least.
But we really do need to turn a corner tomorrow…
Predicted starting 11, subs and outcome.
Fluid 4-5-1 come 4-3-3 come 4-2-4:
Bravo to continue in net, I think, despite last Wednesday’s error in Spain.
With our main right-backs injured, I suppose there’s the possibility of our manager changing the structure of the back line and / or using Gael as a right-sided defender and asking Aleks to ‘go again’ after he played a full 90+ in midweek. But if ‘Pablo junior’ is to progress then surely a home game in the Premier League is a realistic possibility? That’s what I’m going for. So, then, it’s Gael on the left with Nicholas & John in the middle.
A familiar-looking ‘middle 5’ with Nolito & Raheem flanking Fernandinho, David & Kevin.
Sergio surely to get his place back on Sunday.
Willy the keeper insurance; Aleks & Vinny in there as defensive replacement options. Fernando & Ilkay to make up the central midfield cover, with Leroy & Kelechi the attacking change-choices.
Notable absences: Bacary Sagna (injured), Pablo Zabaleta (injured), Fabian Delph (injured and no return date now!) and Yaya Toure (not being selected after an agent / club ‘bust up’).
Do I agree with Pep’s (predicted) line-up?
If they are all ‘fresh legged’ after the 'Barca experience', then there's no arguments from me there.
Result? Well if Everton were hard to break down then I would suggest that these will be even harder! Southampton have conceded one more than Everton in the league (an impressive 7 from 8 games to Everton’s even more impressive 6) but, as I’ve already indicated; Southampton’s more-recent defensive stats are even MORE impressive! It’s another ‘brick wall’ for us to pound at...
As my mate said at the last home game; these are the types of games where you-then need your big players to ‘step up’ and make a difference, particularly in attack. Well…we’ve got them in our ranks and if we can get a goal in the first 30 minutes or so (and keep tight in midfield as well as at the back of course); then any confidence issues our players might have should melt away and, if so, I can see us sticking another one or two on top of that 'opener'.
It’s a ‘tuffy’ for sure…but despite what I’ve said about tomorrow’s ‘oppo’; I’m going for a home win by a couple of goals. Less recovery time following midweek games and more travelling for Southampton might be to our advantaget too...
Expected weather conditions during the game: Chilly; bit of an Easterly breeze to add 'extra bite’ but it’s also a dry & sunny one for the early KO (1:30pm BST). 50F suggests it’s a ‘thick coat & shades’ day.