Though Manchester may have wrapped up the Premier League title, Pep Guardiola and his team are still motivated as the curtain is raised for 2017/18 season in England. The Citizens are spurred against Southampton as they hope to become the first side to reach the 100-point mark, while for the Saints; itâ€™s a top-flight survival encounter
Southampton head inÂ Sunday’sÂ Premier League clash with Manchester City knowing that their top-flight survival will be confirmed should they avoid a heavy defeat against the champions.
However, while the league title has already been wrapped up, Pep Guardiola’s team remain motivated to record another victory in order to reach the 100-point mark for the campaign.
Soon after Mark Hughes’s arrival at St Mary’s, there was an indication that a change in the dugout may not lead to Southampton securing safety in the top flight, but the Welshman deserves huge credit for turning things around on the South-coast.
The demoralising 3-2 defeat to Chelsea – after holding a two-goal advantage – had the potential to leave Southampton accepting that this just was not their season but since the disappointment of that afternoon, eight points have been recorded from four matches.
The goalless draw at Leicester City was not pretty and Hughes was left furious after witnessing his team concede a last-gasp goal at Everton, but the two stalemates have proven decisive in their efforts to stay up.
That has been Hughes’s sole objective and although Southampton are yet to mathematically get over the line, the 54-year-old has gone some way to restoring his reputation after a dismal first half of the campaign at Stoke City.
What Hughes must do now is convince his players to turn in one more strong performance. The celebrations at the Liberty StadiumÂ on TuesdayÂ night suggested that many associated with the club believe that the job is done and that is a dangerous mindset ahead of welcoming the champions.
As much as Hughes stresses to the press that there will be no complacency, it is more about overcoming the fear of monumental failure and ensuring that conceding one goal does not quickly become three or four, like it did against Chelsea over an eight-minute spell.
The chances are that it will not. Not so long ago, Southampton conceded three goals in four successive matches but just two goals have been shipped in their last four outings in the top flight.
Southampton may have to get on the scoresheet at the other end to ease the nerves but if the team can come through the 90 minutes with their Premier League place still intact, it can lead to a stable future with Hughes at the helm.
With their sole defeats coming in high-scoring clashes with Liverpool and Manchester United, it is a case of what could have been for Manchester City but Guardiola’s side remain on course to set a record which may never be broken.
Achieving 100 points over a 38-match campaign would come at an average of 2.63 points per game and given the increasing competitive nature of England’s top flight, it is difficult to see any club matching what City are on the brink of achieving this weekend.
Last weekend’s goalless draw with Huddersfield Town prevented the North-West giants from reaching as high as 102 points but City still stand to break Chelsea’s long-standing record by five points having already scored the most goals in a Premier League season.
Regardless of whether a 32nd success is recordedÂ on Sunday, this City team will forever be remembered as one of the best ever in the history of English football but Guardiola and his players will still hold the desire to cement their legacy in the record books as well as the memories of supporters.
City earned three points over Brighton & Hove AlbionÂ on WednesdayÂ night and the evening will be remembered for being Yaya Toure’s final appearance at the Etihad Stadium in a home shirt, but it will be business as usual on the South coast with Kevin De Bruyne being drafted back into the team.
Mohamed Salah has picked up each of the individual accolades but De Bruyne has been the difference between the title being won at a canter and under pressure from the chasing pack, and the Belgian playmaker deserves a chance to add to his eight goals and 15 assists for the Premier League campaign.
Guardiola may decide to continue with rotating the players who may feature at the World Cup, but the Spaniard will want to end the campaign in the same way that it started at Brighton in August and that is with a win and a clean sheet on the South coast.
Meanwhile, only the most preposterous turnaround can spare Swansea City from relegation on the finalSundayÂ of the Premier League season but if any team can help fashion this mission improbable, it is Manchester City.
While Liverpool and Chelsea contend for the one remaining Champions League spot, Swansea fans are steeling themselves for the most deflating of afternoons at the other end of the table.
For only if the Welsh outfit can beat already-relegated Stoke City at the Liberty Stadium and champions City thrash Southampton at St Mary’s to effect a 10-goal swing will the Saints tumble out of the top flight instead of the Swans.
It remains highly unlikely but because rampant City are seeking to underline their record-shredding campaign with a landmark century of points, few Southampton or Swansea fans can quite convince themselves it is over yet.
“We have to be careful. If there is one team in this league who have the capability of scoring a lot of goals, it’s Man City,” warned Southampton manager Mark Hughes.
Hughes should know. Managing Stoke earlier this season, he saw City rain in seven goals â€“ one of 14 times Guardiola’s side have scored four or more in all competitions this term.
Getting the three pointsÂ on SundayÂ to finish with exactly 100 clearly means a good deal to the Spaniard, who noted after City’s 3-1 steamrollering of Brighton & Hove AlbionÂ on WednesdayÂ that it would “finish this almost perfect season”.
Guardiola talked again of “trying to write a new page” in English football to emulate the Liverpool side of the late 1970s and 1980s and Manchester United in the 1990s.
“To be the best, to be alongside those teams, we have to win more,” he added. “But (this season) we’ve done better than the others, we cannot deny.”
Indeed, Swansea’s manager Carlos Carvalhal can only hopes the champions have one more exceptional 90 minutes in them.
“Well, at this moment we’re not relegated,” he shrugged.
“We can’t depend on ourselves and we don’t like that. We must win the game and hope for a miracle to happen.”
The “miracle” would not be Man City running riot, it would be Swansea, without a league goal in over six and a quarter hours, actually rousing themselves to hammer Stoke.
The good news for Carvalhal is that the Potters certainly look the most accommodating opposition after a week in which their owners Peter and John Coates admitted the club needed a major overhaul after losing some of its “core values”.
In the battle to seal the final top-four spot alongside City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, it’s advantage Liverpool, who need just a point at home to Brighton to foil Chelsea.
The only way the Londoners can nick the fourth spot is by winning at Newcastle United and hope Liverpool, perhaps distracted by the upcoming Champions League final, lose their first league game at Anfield all season.Â Â