It looks set to be another action-packed Premier League weekend, including such blockbuster fixtures as Liverpool vs Stoke, West Ham vs Newcastle and Everton vs Tottenham.
But the pick of the bunch? Undoubtedly Manchester City’s visit to Southampton during Sunday’s lunch-time kick-off.
The remodeled Saints have bounced back tremendously from their infamous summer exodus of key players, skyrocketing their way to second in the Premier League table, albeit six points behind Chelsea.
Meanwhile, the third-place Citizens have some catching up to do if they plan on successfully defending the English title this season. They not only need to leapfrog Southampton but also close the eight-point gap between themselves and the west Londoners.
Matches of such quality, importance and velocity however often come down to which side dominates the individual battles.
With that in mind, here’s FIVE that will decide the result on Sunday afternoon.
Since Southampton’s top flight ascension in summer 2012, Morgan Scheniderlin has continually proved himself to be one of the Premier League’s top midfield enforcers. Once again, he’s in the Premier League’s top ten for successful tackles this term:
And the 25 year-old’s added goals to his game this season, netting three times since the summer – including this absolute stunner against Newcastle:
That being said, Yaya Toure represents as tough a challenge a midfielder can face in the Premier League, boasting an eclectic mix of pace, power, creativity and goals.
The 31 year-old’s been somewhat below his usual standards this season but let’s not forget what he’s capable of. Toure was the Premier League’s third-top scorer with 20 goals last season:
And the Ivory Coast international will be keen to impact at St. Marys, having watched from the sidelines as Manchester City beat a ten-man Bayern Munich in midweek through suspension.
Schneiderlin is also the Saints’ water-carrier in midfield:
So he’ll need to find an ideal equilibrium between ball retention, supporting attacks and nullifying the world-class threat Toure represents.
Quickly attracting interest from many of Europe’s top clubs due to his sensational form however, Schneiderlin will relish facing the City talisman on Sunday. The last time these two met in the Premier League, this happened:
An absolute gem for any Fantasy Football enthusiasts out there, Southampton striker Graziano Pelle has emerged as one of the Premier League’s best value-for-money acquisitions since joining the South Coast outfit from Feyenoord in the summer.
In fact, his form – as detailed below – has been so impressive that the 29 year-old received his first call-up to the Italy squad back in October, now boasting one goal and two caps:
He’s not the most influential in open play but comes with classy feet and is absolutely clinical in front of goal. Here’s some of Pelle’s highlights this season:
He’ll be up against a rather daunting challenge in Vincent Kompany however, unquestionably one of the best centre-backs in the European game.
City’s defensive record isn’t too bad this season – conceding 13 in 12 – and they’ve kept three clean sheets in the Belgium international’s presence, including against Manchester United.
Kompany likes to physically dominate from the first minute to last and will have to assert that early-on against Pelle, especially in the air. The Italian’s 3.9 successful aerial duels per match is only bettered by two Premiership strikers; Peter Crouch and Burnley’s Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Another sensational find from the Southampton scouting team, former FC Twente star Dusan Tadic has established himself as amongst the Premier League’s most potent creators since joining the St. Mary’s ranks this summer.
Indeed, he’s bagged six assists in 12 appearances for the Saints, featuring in nearly every minute of their league campaign, and although the 26 year-old hasn’t scored or assisted since mid-October, he’s stiill at pole position in the chances created charts, beating the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Angel Di Maria:
Tadic can feature on either flank so it remains to be seen how Roland Koeman will see fit to utilise him against the Citizens.
But his most influential role this season has been on the left-wing, as detailed below, and working on that assumption, he’ll directly face Argentine World Cup finalist Pablo Zabaleta on Sunday.
The 29 year-old is a ferocious competitor and battle-hardened warrior, famed for his soundness defensively. This season however his influence is more predominant going forward:
So Tadic will have to ensure he’s not leaving Ryan Bertrand exposed by letting the City defender run off the back of him.
Southampton boast the best defensive record in the Premier League. They’ve conceded just six times in twelve fixtures and kept an incredible seven clean sheets.
Resultantly however, Fraser Forster has faced the fewest shots of any Premier League goalkeeper, perhaps explaining this absolute clanger against Aston Villa on Monday evening:
The England international will have to shake off that ring-rust in time for the Citizens’ visit; only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more league goals than City front-man Sergio Aguero this season:
Southampton’s defensive organisation is impeccable but it’s inevitable that the Argentina international will get chances on Sunday.
Also averaging 5.3 shots per match – the second most of any player in Europe’s five leading top flights – with an accuracy ratio of 66%, Forster will have to be in top form to prevent the 26 year-old from getting on the score sheet. Here’s a clip of Aguero, currently the Premier League’s top scorer, in action this season:
It’s been a sensational season for Southampton right-back Nathaniel Clyne. He’s emerged as England’s first-choice No.2 during the recent international break, netted this absolute stunner against Aston Villa on Monday night to bag his second goal of the season:
… and currently boasts the best tackling return in the Premier League:
Indeed, the 23 year-old appears to be improving by the game and will relish the challenge of facing Manchester City on Sunday.
With David Silva out injured for the St. Marys’ visit, Clyne will likely be up against new-found England team-mate James Milner.
The stocky midfielder has become better famed his spoof Twitter alter ego over the last few years:
I’ve got a mountain of ironing to do but I’m going to live a little and get an early night instead. The ironing will have to wait for once.
— Boring James Milner (@BoringMilner) November 27, 2014
But Milner is amid an impressive revival of form this season, as detailed below:
And Clyne must make sure his ability to contribute going forward isn’t nullified by the 29 year-old’s world-class industry and defensive contribution.