By Guy Mowbray
BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
Venue: Etihad Stadium Date: Sunday, 19 August KO 16:00 GMT
Manchester City’s Micah Richards has made slow progress in his recovery from an ankle injury, and is likely to be sidelined for another four weeks.
City will assess Joe Hart (back), Jack Rodwell (hamstring) and Mario Balotelli (conjunctivitis), but Gareth Barry is ruled out with an abdominal injury.
Southampton could be without midfielder Jack Cork, who hurt his ankle in pre-season.
Summer signings Nathaniel Clyne, Steven Davis and Jay Rodriguez could all play.
Most Southampton fans I know are ‘glass half full’ types – and that’s probably a good thing ahead of their first Premier League game for over seven years.
The fixture computer clearly has a sick sense of humour in sending one of the newly-promoted teams to the champions on day one, with the Saints bidding to avoid the same fate that befell Swansea on their top-flight return a year ago – a 4-0 thumping at Eastlands that would have been worse but for goalkeeper Michel Vorm’s heroics.
City might only have added Jack Rodwell to last season’s title winners so far (much to Roberto Mancini’s annoyance!) but they remain the team to beat – something no club has done in the league at their place for 29 games since December 2010.
They’ve steadily and ominously improved in pre-season too, with last Sunday’s Community Shield success against Chelsea making it six warm-up wins in a row.
I’m sure there will be new faces before the end of August, but it’s an old face who’ll seem like a new signing in a way. No reports of wanting to leave, no refusing to play – Carlos Tevez looks fitter than ever after a full summer of undisrupted preparation (and caddying!).
So what have Southampton got in response? Well you can’t underestimate the effect of being a team not used to losing after back-to-back promotions propelled them into the elite.
And they’ve certainly got goals in the side, with the talented Jay Rodriguez joining from Burnley to team up with last term’s main marksmen Rickie Lambert and Billy Sharp.
Sharp has looked exactly that in pre-season with five goals including a hat-trick against Swiss side Etoile Carouge, whilst Lambert will be looking to emulate Norwich’s Grant Holt in adding top-flight goals to a career spent scoring in the lower leagues.
I think their best asset though is manager Nigel Adkins. He led Saints to a ‘first day’ win for the first time in 12 years last August, and won’t be fazed at all by this daunting start. He has the same optimistic outlook as those supporters, and I particularly enjoyed the response to losing 4-0 to Udinese in last week’s final prep game. “What a great game of football… a great learning curve”. Here starteth the next lesson.
- Saints have only lost one of their last five Premier League games away to City, winning three times.
- The last top-flight match between the sides came on New Year’s Day 2005, when Paul Bosvelt opened the scoring in a 2-1 win for City.
- In four of the last five seasons City have started their league campaign with a clean sheet. The exception was 2008-09, when they lost 4-2 at Aston Villa on the opening day.
- City have not begun a season with a home defeat since 1999, when they lost 1-0 to Wolves at Maine Road in the second tier.
- Roberto Mancini’s men won their final six league games last term.
- They dropped only two points at home during the 2011-12 season – in a 3-3 draw with Sunderland.
- Last season Saints beat Leeds to win their opening game for the first time this century. Their 1-0 win at Coventry in the 1999-2000 season is the last time they began a top-flight season with a victory.
- Opta statistics show that Southampton scored only four league goals from outside the penalty area last term – fewer than any other Championship side.
- Nigel Adkins’ side were the top scorers in the second tier last term with 85 goals.