It's crunch time for the champions but Manchester City will steady the ship with a confidence-boosting victory over Southampton at St Mary's.
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Southampton v Manchester City (1415 GMT, Sky Sports)
This is the Premier League, and every week is the week, but there's no doubt that it's crunch time for Manchester City. No hyperbole required here: the next two games could define their domestic campaign, and the next six weeks certainly will.
City end the year at Southampton, before starting the new one by welcoming leaders Liverpool to the Etihad Stadium. To enter that game on the back of a third league defeat in succession would present their visitors with options, chief of which would be to go for the kill. Indeed if City's run of defeats somehow doubles from two to four, you can start calling Spurs the key threats to a Jurgen Klopp-inspired title romp.
Pep Guardiola understands that having failed against Crystal Palace and failed again at Leicester, his focus can be on only one thing - getting back to winning ways at Southampton, a side against whom they won 6-1 when looking every inch the team to beat less than two months ago.
And he perhaps understands too that the best way to build confidence might not in fact be through a swashbuckling, here's-what-we-can-do riot, but by keeping a clean sheet and ensuring that, whatever happens at the other end, the run of zero points ends here and now. There's certainly a scenario, involving Liverpool losing to Arsenal, in which even a 0-0 draw here isn't the end of the world but even at their lowest, City surely find a way to score.
The Spaniard has very little experience dealing with failure, but what evidence we have is that he's happy to reset.
In his first season managing Barcelona, they lost back-to-back La Liga games before a 2-0 victory put them back on track. In his third season, they suffered a shock early blow and responded with 2-1 and 1-0 wins, and after switching to Bayern and losing back-to-back Bundesliga games, another 2-0 win, hard-fought and away from home, was just what was required.
This theme runs through his managerial career, into his second season at Bayern where following a 4-1 defeat they drew 1-1, won 2-0 and then won 8-0. It's a familiar, logical trajectory; one which acknowledges the fundamental failures of the previous week or so and seeks to address them, in a way which winning at ease perhaps would not.
Guardiola's first defeat in the Premier League was followed by a pair of 1-1 draws which demonstrate, albeit to a less successful extent, that we perhaps shouldn't expect fireworks here. Indeed it's two years since City last played to avoid a third league defeat in succession, and Guardiola - in charge then - would be quite happy with a repeat of their 2-0 victory over Watford.
None of this is to overlook the possibility of City winning 4-1 or 5-2 or 6-3, but the value of winning without conceding may be more significant given what lies ahead. It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.
And what of the hosts? Ralph Hasenhuttl's side lost 2-1 to West Ham on Thursday to make it two wins and two defeats since the German took over. They had previously done well to outpoint Arsenal but were helped along the way and will surely need to defend better here, assuming they aren't allowed to head at goal at will.
Hasenhuttl bemoaned energy levels ("we were not so fresh") which saw Saints quickly give up their lead against the Hammers and with City having enjoyed - if that's the right word - an extra day's rest, it's fair to expect an away win. Not that you'd want to be piling into a low-on-confidence City at 1/3.
Score prediction: Southampton 0-2 Man City (Sky Bet odds: 6/1)
City should shake off a destructive Christmas by ending the year with a win, but those expecting them to run amok might be left disappointed. As detailed above, sometimes the best way to get back on track is by keeping a clean sheet, working hard and showing that you're able to roll up your sleeves and deal with adversity. I strongly suspect that Guardiola, who highlighted defence as a key issue at Leicester, will be working from back to front here and City to win without setting the world alight looks much the most likely outcome.
Man City to win and under 3.5 goals at 13/10
Grouping together 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 and 3-0 wins for the visitors at odds-against looks excellent value and is preferred to playing under 3.5 goals as a single at 4/7, or City to win to nil at 5/4. Southampton have had some success against them in the past and Danny Ings in particular will be keen to add to his goal at the Etihad, but this has the look of a fairly low-key contest in which the away side slowly build confidence. For those looking more towards a stats-based play, City are 17/2 to win from behind. They've only done so in the Champions League this season, but Southampton have dropped more points from winning positions than any side in the division and might be keen to attack a wounded animal early on, having started well against West Ham. It's not inconceivable that they go ahead and ask another serious questions of Guardiola and his men.
Riyad Mahrez to score first at 11/2 (each-way, 1/3 unlimited)
It's hard to attack goalscorer markets with confidence at this time of year, but Mahrez should be in line for a return to the team with Guardiola set to shuffle the pack. He scored the opener for Leicester here last December and four of his five Premier League goals for City have come away from home. He will trouble Southampton, just as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Felipe Anderson have done lately, and looks a rock-solid each-way bet to score first. Alternatively, he's quoted at a best of 11/5 (much shorter generally) in the anytime market.
Southampton v Man City Opta stats
- Southampton have won just one of their last 11 Premier League meetings with Manchester City (D2 L8), winning 4-2 in this exact fixture in the 2015-16 campaign.
- Manchester City have won their last four Premier League games against Southampton by an aggregate score of 12-2. They have never won five in a row against Saints in the Premier League.
- Southampton have never lost five consecutive league games against Manchester City. They also haven’t suffered three consecutive home league defeats against the Citizens since April 1994.
- Man City have lost three of their last four Premier League games (W1) – as many as they had in their previous 70 in the competition (W55 D12 L3).
- Man City have lost their last two Premier League games. They last lost three in a row in March 2016.
- Man City have lost their last two Premier League games, despite scoring first in both. Only four sides have ever lost three in a row after scoring the first goal in the competition (Blackburn in April 2007, Sunderland in February 2011, Wolves in April 2012 and Leicester in December 2014).
- After a run of six consecutive clean sheets, Man City have conceded in eight of their last nine Premier League games. The Citizens have conceded a goal with their first shot faced in three of their last four league games.
- Man City striker Sergio Aguero has scored four goals and assisted four more in his last eight Premier League games against Southampton.
- Man City’s Raheem Sterling has been directly involved in 10 goals in his last 10 Premier League appearances against Southampton (6 goals, 4 assists), including scoring two and assisting two in the reverse fixture this season.
- Only once in Man City boss Pep Guardiola’s managerial career has he lost three league games in a row, back in May 2015 with Bayern Munich.