How Manchester City Will Line Up Against Southampton
Saturday afternoon sees the latest instalment of Manchester City's title challenge. The Citizens can move to within one point of leaders Liverpool with a victory over Southampton at the Etihad Stadium.
With the Reds not in action until Sunday, when they face West Ham, the match is a perfect opportunity for Manuel Pellegrini's men to turn up the pressure on Liverpool and test out their title credentials.
However, City haven't always had things their own way against Southampton since the Saints returned to the top flight in 2012, with Mauricio Pochettino's men registering a win and a draw against the Manchester outfit in their last two meetings.
With several young talents in the team who are looking to cement places in England's World Cup squad, Southampton will be a tough nut for City to crack. So how will Pellegrini play it?
Here are the XI he could pick to start the match.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
The 1-1 draw between these two teams at St. Mary's in December occurred when Joe Hart had lost his place in the team to Costel Pantilimon. The England goalkeeper was watching on when the Romanian was beaten by a fine strike from Dani Osvaldo.
That No. 1 jersey is all Hart's now, though. His performance will be crucial against a host of players who will hope to be in the same team as him come the World Cup this summer.
The Citizens are likely to enjoy most of the possession and attempts on goal in this game, but the Saints are a dangerous team on the break. With the likes of Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana all potent in front of goal, Hart will have to be alert.
Defence: Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Aleksandar Kolarov
Mathieu Flamini's equaliser for Arsenal last weekend was the first goal that City had conceded in three-and-a-half games. The main change during that time was Gael Clichy moving back into contention for the first-choice left-back slot.
Pellegrini appears to prefer Aleksandar Kolarov in home matches such as this, though. The Serb offers an extra attacking threat and is always able to provide an outlet down the left flank as an extra man whenever his team are looking to overload their opposition.
He could come in for Clichy here, with the rest of the defence unchanged from the Manchester United and Arsenal games, with Martin Demichelis again chosen to partner Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta starting at right-back.
Midfield: Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, David Silva
As the stakes get higher in the title race, David Silva has begun to noticeably turn it on when it matters most.
The Spanish star was excellent in the recent games at Manchester United and Arsenal, scoring his side's goal in the latter match and doing everything else but find the net during the 3-0 stroll at Old Trafford.
The switch to only playing one central striker has allowed him the room that he needs to create the kind of magic that he's capable of. Pellegrini seems to have made this subtle shift in recent weeks as he looks to rely on one of his key men to make the difference in the title challenge.
With the safety and security of knowing that he has Fernandinho and Yaya Toure behind him for protection and support, expect Silva to again be a crucial influence in how his side play here.
Attack: Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko
After his brace in the Manchester derby win at Old Trafford and after confidently leading the line in the draw at the Emirates Stadium, Edin Dzeko's patience looks to have been rewarded.
He has become City's first-choice centre-forward at the most crucial point of the season.
Alvaro Negredo's form and Sergio Aguero's injuries have played a part in this, of course, but Dzeko has deservedly got himself front and centre in the battle to score the goals to take this team to glory.
He should start again here, and could again be supported on either flank by the in-form Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas.
With four strikes each in the Premier League this season, the pair might be expected to up their total number of goals in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Ready in Reserve
As mentioned in the last slide, Negredo's poor form has cost him his starting place in recent weeks, with the Spaniard now failing to score in 11 matches dating back to the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against West Ham at the end of January.
Injury has played a part, of course, but he is likely to again be on the bench here, with Sergio Aguero perhaps not ready to return until the huge game against Liverpool next Sunday afternoon.
Negredo could be held in reserve with City's usual suspects—the likes of James Milner, Javi Garcia and Stevan Jovetic.
How They'll Line Up
We will likely see City adopt the same approach which has brought them success in recent weeks, with Dzeko acting as the lone front man ahead of the three attacking talents of Nasri, Silva and Navas.
As we've seen, Silva becomes the most crucial player in this setup, with Pellegrini seemingly making the World Cup and European Championship winner the focal point of his side's title challenge.
That's not to say that threats won't come from elsewhere, obviously, with Toure bursting forward from midfield and Kolarov available down the left. However, you get the feeling that if Southampton's talented midfielders can get hold of Silva in this clash, they might have a chance of taking something from it.
City will be confident this won't happen, though, with the most likely outcome seeing them pick up a crucial three points ahead of the potentially season-defining trip to Liverpool next weekend.