Saturday's match at St. Mary's versus Manchester City looks to be a hard ask for Mauricio Pochettino and Southampton. The Saints are coming into the match riding a three-game losing streak and could be missing up to nine players through injury or illness.
Meanwhile, Manchester City come into the match on a three-game winning streak.
But Southampton can't feel sorry for themselves. The Saints are currently five points out of the final Champions League place, and if they want to remain in the hunt for European football, getting at least a point out of the match is key.
Pochettino generally prefers a high-tempo, high-pressing defense and an offense that utilizes a controlled but direct attack. Against Manchester City, however, Pochettino should probably take a page from the tactics book of teams like Stoke City and Aston Villa and try to make the game as ugly as possible.
Defensively, Southampton should look to clog the middle of the pitch and make Manchester City work on the flanks. City rarely like to contest balls in the air, only winning 14.6 aerial duels per match according to WhoScored.com, which ranks 17th in the Premier League.
Victor Wanyama is definitely out with a leg injury and Morgan Schneiderlin is most likely out as well. Jack Cork will likely get the opportunity to play in the center of midfield along side Steven Davis.
Offensively, Pochettino should look to capitalize on the Manchester City lack of strength in the air by deploying Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez in the attack. City's probable center back pairing of Martin Demichelis and Vincent Kompany combine to win just 1.9 aerial duels per match, according to WhoScored.com.
To give service to Lambert and Rodriguez, Southampton should look to play Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse out wide, despite temptations to play them in the center of the pitch. Ward-Prowse and Lallana are Southampton's two most successful crossers of the ball, averaging 2.8 and 1.5 successful crosses per match according to WhoScored.com.
Manchester City will definitely test the Southampton goal—City lead the Premier League in shots on target with 6.6 per match according to WhoScored.com. With Artur Boruc out and Kelvin Davis most likely out, Pochettino will likely have to turn to a young goalkeeper again.
Paulo Gazzaniga has received the call to replace Boruc in the past two games. Unfortunately, the young Argentinian has conceded five goals in those two matches and failed to make a save in either match according to Squawka.
The time has come to give Southampton's other young keeper a chance, American Cody Cropper. The 20-year-old was the No. 1 keeper for the United States in this year's U-20 FIFA World Cup and also earned an invite to the senior national team camp against Bosnia-Herzegovina back in August.
True, Cropper hasn't played a senior game at any level. But what better way to test a young keeper than by playing against one of the best offenses in the Premier League.
Saturday's matchup will be a stern test for the Saints but a great opportunity for those who aren't part of the normal first 11 to prove they can contribute to the squad.