Before the weekend draw against Southampton at St. Mary’s, it seemed sensible for Manchester City to rest their best players in their final Champions League group stage match against Bayern Munich on Tuesday. To have any chance of topping the group, City need to better Bayern’s 3-1 win at the Etihad earlier in the competition, an unlikely scenario given their brilliance.
City look almost certain to finish as runners-up in Group D, so risking first XI players could be considered a questionable move, and with the match against Arsenal on Saturday—the biggest match of City’s season so far—it all seems set up for Manuel Pellegrini to rotate heavily, saving his big players for the crunch league game.
However, a tepid performance against Southampton, where City once again struggled against a side playing a high-tempo pressing game, may see the City boss rethink that strategy.
Resting players is often seen as a benefit in the modern game, but momentum is also vital. The stagnant nature of City’s performance at St. Mary’s suggests their best side may well benefit from another run out prior to visit of Arsene Wenger’s men. There would be no better test than a match against the finest club side in the world currently.
Southampton out-passed City for much of the match, had the better of the possession and generally looked more threatening (via Squawka). They moved the ball quicker and tackled harder. They were, in truth, the better side. It would be far from ideal if this was the last outing City’s best players have before such an important match.
It was a worrying game for City. In a week where they had secured only their second away win of the season in the 3-2 win at West Brom, it seemed like the time had come for them to kick on and start winning more regularly away from home. They started brightly on Saturday, too, and scored a good goal to go ahead, but lethargy set in, and they were lucky to escape with a point.
Of course, risk of injury is the major concern in Munich. If Pellegrini was to select a strong side for what is essentially a dead rubber and a big player was to get injured and miss Saturday's game, questions would, quite rightly, be asked. There must surely be a temptation, though, to try and use the match to inject some life into his side.
Arsenal's draw at home to Everton means City remains six points adrift, with this weekend's match meaning they can cut that to three with a win. It's an absolute must-win for City, and a performance like the one on the South coast won't suffice. Pellegrini must balance protecting his players with making sure they are ready for what will be their toughest league test yet this Saturday lunchtime.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013/14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.