Manchester City Face Their Most Important Game of the Season at Southampton

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2013

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Sergio Aguero (2nd right) of Manchester City celebrates with Samir Nasri (right) and team mates after scoring during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester City at The Hawthorns on December 4, 2013 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

After West Ham United, finally came West Bromwich Albion, and as they now look for only a third away league win of the season at Southampton on Saturday perhaps Manchester City can take inspiration from looking at a map.

Before navigating their way to The Hawthorns on Wednesday night, the key to City’s campaign could be found in the fact that the 3-1 win at Upton Park in mid-October registered as their only league success on the road in 2013/14.

The September draw at Stoke was the only other time they’d managed to add to their points tally away from the Etihad Stadium this season too, and so it was obvious that something had to change pretty drastically if City wanted to be anywhere near the top spot in the table.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Yaya Toure of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his second goal during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester City at The Hawthorns on December 4, 2013 in West Bromwich, England.
David Rogers/Getty Images

Thankfully for them, four away points became seven with a brace from Yaya Toure, a Sergio Aguero strike and a 3-2 victory at West Brom which was more comfortable than the scoreline suggested, and now as they prepare to head to St Mary’s to face Southampton on Saturday, City must know just what a win would mean for them.

If they don’t, then maybe we need to spell it out.

Victory would move them to within three points of the top of the table ahead of Arsenal’s tricky home clash with Everton on Sunday. It would represent back-to-back away league wins which should remove the away curse for good. And it would put City in an even more confident mood ahead of their next league game at the fortress Etihad Stadium, which just so happens to be against…Arsenal.

In short then, the visit to Mauricio Pochettino's Saints can be regarded as the most important fixture of City’s season so far and heading into it everything seems to be in the Blues’ favour.

Southampton’s hugely impressive season was always going to be tested by this tricky run of fixtures they’re now on, and whilst plenty would have expected them to end up on the losing side at Arsenal and at Chelsea, the 3-2 home loss to Aston Villa on Wednesday was a surprise.

Pochettino will be determined to see his team react to that setback in a positive manner, but they are probably facing the toughest possible opponents in their attempt to do that.

City weren't at their ruthless, seemingly unstoppable best against West Brom, but they looked comfortable and always seemed in control of the match’s destiny.

Maintaining that control is something that was so sorely missed during the losses at Cardiff, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Sunderland earlier in the campaign, all defeats which saw that element of control that seems second nature to City in home matches disappear before our eyes.

Given the importance of the task in hand in Southampton though, Manuel Pellegrini simply can’t afford to let that happen again. Indeed, the Chilean boss would be wise to inform his players of just what the best possible scenario could be for them come next weekend.

Following their win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, the prospect of Everton beating Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon shouldn't be deemed too far-fetched, and if the Merseysiders do just that then City victories over Southampton and then the Gunners next Saturday would put them on top of the table. Not bad for a team which until recently could only function in home matches.

That is what is on the line at St Mary’s then, where the visitors will approach fully aware of the huge task in hand but also fully confident that they can deliver a victory.

They’d have thought they were going to win at the Cardiff City Stadium, Villa Park, Stamford Bridge and the Stadium of Light too of course, but the belief gained on Wednesday at The Hawthorns might well ensure a different outcome here.

As far as the Premier League table is concerned, Manchester City want to be heading north.

Win at Southampton this Saturday and they might well be setting a course that they’ll stick to for the remainder of the campaign.