Manchester City face test of leadership credentials against Southampton

Photo credit: AFP

Photo credit: AFP

From a position of strength at the top of the Premier League a week ago, Manchester City suddenly face a test of their staying power against Southampton on Saturday.

City’s shock 4-1 defeat at home to Liverpool last Saturday saw them surrender the lead in the title race, with manager Manuel Pellegrini admitting the performance had been the worst he had seen since his arrival at Eastlands two-and-a-half years ago.

A chance to bounce back in the Champions League on Wednesday was then passed up as City missed a number of decent goalscoring chances and lost 1-0 to Juventus in Turin.

As a result, they are no longer guaranteed top spot in Group D with one game to go ahead of next month’s draw for the last 16.

And, worryingly, goalkeeper Joe Hart sustained a hamstring injury that forced the England international to be replaced by Willy Caballero.

Hart is crucial to City’s fortunes and his injury is the latest to inflict Pellegrini’s squad, which suddenly looks vulnerable. The injury is so crucial, in fact, that if you’re betting on the Premier League, you may want to take advantage of a Matchbook bonus code to place a bet.

Captain and defensive leader Vincent Kompany has been badly missed and faces another fortnight out with a calf problem.

David Silva’s absence has been just as badly felt, with the Spaniard’s creativity in tandem with top scorer Sergio Aguero, who is yet to play 90 minutes since returning from a seven-match spell out with a hamstring injury, denying City a major weapon.

In addition, Samir Nasri is out long-term following an operation on his hamstring, while striker Wilfried Bony could miss the visit of eighth-placed Southampton.

– Severely stretched –

Defenders Pablo Zabaleta and Eliaquim Mangala were also absent for the midweek European tie to leave City’s squad severely stretched.

But Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure is not looking for excuses and he knows City are capable of going back to the head of the Premier League with the top two of Leicester and Manchester United playing each other this weekend.

“We have a fantastic squad. We had quite a lot of injuries from important players but we have to live with that,” Toure said.

“We have to forget this game (at Juventus) and try to bounce back in the league.”

Ronald Koeman’s Southampton, beaten at home by Stoke last weekend, have seen their hopes of increasing the pressure on the top six take a blow after Jay Rodriguez was told he faces another lay-off following foot surgery.

The striker only recently returned to full fitness after missing the whole of last season with a knee ligament injury and will now be sidelined for two months.

“Jay had the surgery last Tuesday and we are happy about that, because that was the best to do. That was a good final decision to do that, but then you know he’s maybe out for seven to eight weeks,” Koeman said.

“But we don’t have other injuries and the team is fit, the team is doing good training sessions and that’s always important to have a good feeling for the Saturday game.”

With Graziano Pelle also missing while he serves a one-match suspension, Koeman’s forward options will be stretched for the trip to Eastlands.

But Southampton captain Jose Fonte said: “We have other players in the team, so we need to deal with it. Obviously Graziano is an important part in our team and it is going to be difficult without him.

“But we have trust in the other players as well. We all know the philosophy that we have and we’ll try and play our game there.”

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