For a new feature this week we want to do a preview of the biggest game of the week, using the information available on Inside FPL and around the web to try to gain a better insight and forecast of what might happen on the pitch. This week we look at Southampton vs Manchester City.
It is three defeats in a row now for Southampton, including two in the past six days. After being the darlings of the media for much of the early season, some are now beginning to ask if the wheels are coming off the season for the Saints. Is this the case though? Should Southampton fans be panicking?
Before last Sunday Southampton had the division's best defensive record with just seven goals conceded in twelve matches. Even then, two of those were freak goals - Artur Boruc gifting Arsenal their opener and Asmir Begovic scoring for Stoke. So have Pochettino's men suddenly become terrible at defending?
If we take a look at the stats the picture becomes a little clearer. Using the Inside FPL Expected Goals model, over that initial twelve game stretch we would have expected Southampton to have conceded almost exactly ten goals excluding penalties (a still impressive 0.83 per game). In the two matches this week this figure is a fraction over two goals (1.03 per game). Given that one of these matches was at Stamford Bridge there isn't a lot of cause for alarm here. Specifically, on Wednesday evening Aston Villa scored three goals against their expected tally of just 0.50!
Of more concern for the Saints is there rapidly lengthening injury list. One of the features of their early season run was the consistency of team selection they were able to maintain. For this weekend though it seems they will be definitely be without regular starters Boruc, Clyne, Schneiderlin and Wanyama and may also be without Jose Fonte.
Since his appointment, manager Mauricio Pochettino has successfully implemented a high tempo, fast pressing style with the aim of winning back possession high up the field and throwing the opposition off their passing stride. This has been rightly praised by many although some have also pointed out the physical demands this puts on the players. Unfortunately for Pochettino it seems his injuries have all come at once, and at the exact time the best attacking team in the league to St Mary's.
Manchester City's have by some distance the best attacking record in the league this season with 40 goals scored. Even using the Inside FPL model they are clear of the rest with 25 expected goals (excluding penalties). So what can Southampton do to stop them on Saturday?
Here we come back to the pressing game. The only team to truly outplay City this year has been European Champions Bayern Munich. Similar to their compatriots Borussia Dortmund last season, Bayern employed so-called "gegenpress" high pressing to stifle City's passing game. Southampton's approach under Pochettino has sometimes even been compared to that of the German giants. Indeed, his first win as Saints coach was actually a 3-1 victory in the reverse fixture last season.
The problem for Pochettino on Saturday, however, is likely to be does he have the available personnel to operate his preferred system. Let's take a look at the expected line-ups:
Southampton: Gazzaniga; Chambers, Yoshida, Lovren, Shaw; Cork, Davis; Ward-Prowse, Lallana, Rodriguez; Osvaldo
Manchester City: Pantilimon; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Navas, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri; Negredo, Aguero
Aguero & Negredo vs Lovren & Yoshida
City's dynamic new strike duo has been deadly this season. They have 17 actual and 10 expected goals between them and are match-up proof every week starters. Aguero in particular has provided the highest goal threat in the division so far. If he is missing his usual centre-back partner Fonte again, the excellent Dejan Lovren may well find them too much to handle and will likely be a poor fantasy option this week.
Nasri vs Cork & Davis
Since the injury to David Silva, Frenchman Nasri has really stepped up to be the main creative force for City. He has now overtaken Silva with the most key passes and expected assists on the side. He will be confident of exploiting the space between defence and midfield in the absence of Wanyama and Schneiderlin and is a must start.
Zabaleta & Navas vs Shaw
City also pose a huge threat down the right flank. Zabaleta and Navas have 30 key passes and 3.5 expected assists on the season. Saints starlet Luke Shaw will have his hands full dealing with this if he doesn't get support from Rodriguez in front of him so represents a risky fantasy player this week.
Ward-Prowse v Demichelis & Kompany
Youngster Ward-Prowse has the most key passes for Southampton this season (26), the majority of which are crosses (from both open play and set pieces). However City opted for twin towers Kompany and Demichelis at the back midweek and will be confident of their ability to repel this type of service; City have actually conceded the fewest goal attempts from crosses in the league. Ward-Prowse has limited fantasy appeal this week.
Lallana v Demichelis & Kompany
A better option is likely to be Saints' other chief creator, newly capped England midfielder Adam Lallana. Lallana provides an all-round goal threat with 2.2 expected goals and 2.3 expected assists. His passing vision and ability to run with the ball will likely provide a sterner test to Kompany and the cumbersome Demichelis and be Southampton's best route to goal.
Southampton 1 Manchester City 2
Saints don't quite have the manpower or leg-power to match City for the full 90 minutes.