Manchester City-Southampton Preview
In a season of rewriting the Premier League record book, history beckons one last time to Manchester City as they can become the first team in top-flight English football to reach 100 points in a season Sunday with a victory at St Mary's over a Southampton side who will likely survive for Premier League play next season, albeit barely.
There is just one single-season Premier League record for City (31-4-2) to break, and it requires a victory in this game. That would give the Sky Blues 16 road victories, which would better the mark they share with the 2004-05 Chelsea side.
Pep Guardiola's side have already set single-season marks for victories (31), consecutive wins (18), points (97) and goals (105). They have also equaled Premier League standards for most consecutive road wins (11) and matched the earliest title-clinching date by doing so after 33 matches.
"I feel good. We had to maintain our level to break those records," Guardiola told City's official website after a 3-1 victory Wednesday over Brighton and Hove Albion. "We had to maintain our intensity. We have 97 points, have scored a lot of goals and won a lot of games, that is a consequence of the season we have done.
Manchester City are also on pace for the largest goal difference at plus-78, which would easily outpace the plus-71 set by Chelsea in 2009-10. They have an outside chance at setting a Premier League record for away goals, needing five to top the mark of 48 set by Liverpool in 2013-14.
City have scored more than four goals just once outside the Etihad, smashing six by Watford on Sept. 16, but they did score four in their last road contest in easing past West Ham United on April 29.
But the 100-point mark is one Guardiola has publicly stated as a goal, and something he could sense in his grasp following City's midweek win that served as a farewell match for veteran midfielder and one-time captain Yaya Toure, who will move on next season after 316 matches with the club.
"Now we want 100 points and finish this almost perfect season in the Premier League," Guardiola said. "We spoke about history and writing a new page. I cannot forget the 1980s when Liverpool were dominating, with (Kenny) Dalglish and (Ian) Rush, and United in the 1990s with Sir Alex Ferguson and we are so happy he is out of intensive care.
"After Sir Alex came Jose Mourinho with Petr Cech and Frank Lampard. The Invincibles, (Arsene) Wenger, (Thierry) Henry, (Patrick) Vieira … the way they play. These teams deserve to be the best, but we beat them … I am not saying we are better because we need more years of success, but in one season we were better."
Given how City overturned much of their roster for Wednesday's victory - Toure was one of eight changes to the starting XI Guardiola made following their scoreless draw versus Huddersfield Town - it is possible the Spaniard will go with a full-strength side in making City centurions.
That would mean restoring top playmaking midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva behind forwards Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, with Raheem Sterling creating all sorts of havoc in a three-quarters role between the quartet.
While City ponder history, Southampton are pondering ensuring their survival for next season. The Saints (7-15-15) are in good shape - they lead 18th-place Swansea by three points, and the Welsh side would need to engineer a 10-goal swing in goal difference while beating already-relegated Stoke City in addition to Southampton losing to avoid the drop.
But the prospect of playing the champions has Southampton supporters on edge. There is some gallows' humour to this because Saints boss Mark Hughes was in charge of Stoke before being sacked there and arriving at St Mary's, and the Potters have already absorbed four beatings by four goals or more, highlighted by a 7-2 thrashing from Manchester City on Oct. 14.
Southampton have shipped four or more goals just twice this term, with both of those defeats pre-dating Hughes' arrival in March. Additionally, the one-time Manchester City boss has put the Saints in this favourable position by claiming eight points from the last four matches, highlighted by winning a six-point belter Tuesday at Swansea City 1-0 on Manolo Gabbiadini's goal in the 72nd minute.
"It was a huge effort by everybody, anything else wouldn't have been good enough - we needed to win," said Hughes to Southampton's official website following the win that was made sweeter after the team had to make last-minute changes to their itinerary after the hotel they had been staying out was suddenly fully booked.
"In the first half maybe we were taken aback a little bit because they went more direct than we anticipated, which just put us on the back foot somewhat. We just needed to win more challenges in the second half. To a man, that's exactly what we did."
Southampton, though, have just four wins and 19 points (4-7-7) at home this season and have only taken two points from the other top-six sides in the table. Their 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on April 28 ended a nine-match winless spell (0-5-4) in league play at St Mary's.
"The fans, they've been with us all the way. But definitely against Swansea, in the difficult moments they sang and supported us," Cedric said. "Man City will be a different kind of game, but we need to face it the same way. We need to prepare the game like any other, for sure we will be studying them. We take it very very seriously."
Southampton were unlucky not to leave the Etihad with a point in the reverse fixture as Sterling's well-taken goal in the 95th minute lifted City to a 2-1 victory Nov. 29. De Bruyne had staked the hosts to a lead shortly after halftime before Oriol Romeu pulled the Saints level on the final quarter-hour.
City have taken points in eight of the last nine league matches between the sides, going 6-2-1. Since being sacked in December 2009, Hughes has gone 2-3-8 against the Sky Blues while manager at Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City.
Updated May 10, 2018