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Premier League Preview: Manchester City vs. Southampton

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  • Saints 3-2-2 in last seven meetings vs. City
  • Citizens have lost just once in previous 10 PL fixtures
  • Aguero has scored 10 goals in as many matches of late

Manchester City looks to keep its hopes of a top four finish alive on Saturday as Pep Guardiola‘s team hosts Southampton at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Citizens currently sit on 61 points with seven matches to play, and while a Champions League place is very much in sight, Guardiola and co. must be wary of Manchester United and Arsenal.

Captain Vincent Kompany could make his fourth City appearance this season in PL play after an extended layoff due to injury as his side looks for back-to-back wins.

[ MORE: Previews of every Premier League game — Week 33 ]

For Southampton, a top 10 finish is very much possible for Claude Puel and his side, with Saints currently in ninth place.

Manolo Gabbiadini is a possibility to participate in Saturday’s affair after suffering a groin injury, and Saints will need his production if they are to have a shot at three points. In four PL matches this season, the Italian striker has tallied four goals.

What they’re saying

Guardiola on goalkeeper decision heading into weekend“Every weekend I will decide who is in goal. Last week I decided on Claudio and Saturday I will decide (again). It depends on the opponent, the pressing, what I see in the training sessions, so we are going to see. I like both to be involved, I have confidence in both of them, so we will see.”

Claude Puel on feelings of facing top side like Manchester City“(City) like to have the ball, good possession, good play, have good players in attack, but we will have opportunities also. The most important thing for us is to keep the good feeling between ourselves; then we can go up against this team. The opportunity to play a great manager is very interesting. He has a good philosophy.”

Prediction

Saints have done well in this fixture recently but City has been hard to beat over the last two months with just one defeat in their last 10. With United and Arsenal breathing down their necks, I think City will step it up and put more pressure on those sides as they look to breach a place in the top four. Manchester City 2-0 Southampton

Week 30: Top 5 Premier League Storylines — Tottenham needs win to keep sight of Leicester

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With a number of FA Cup matches are on the docket this weekend, only half of the Premier League clubs will be playing in league fixtures.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Despite the absence of several key sides, three of the PL’s top four sides will all play in critical matches that will help determine the title race.

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Can the Foxes avoid a letdown?

Leicester City vs. Newcastle United — Monday, 4 p.m. ET

[ READ: What’s in-store for Chelsea after their Champions League exit? ]

With just nine matches remaining and a five-point cushion, Leicester City can really begin to think about a Premier League title with a win against Newcastle. The Foxes have the benefit of not needing to balance multiple competitions, like several other teams in contention, which means Claudio Ranieri‘s team can zone in on its first PL crown in team history.

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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his penalty with Danny Rose during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on February 14, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Spurs don’t deserve title with loss against Villa

Aston Villa vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Sunday, 12 p.m. ET

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

With the Villans all but buried at the basement of the PL, Tottenham can use no excuses if they were to slip up against their last-place opponent. Manager Mauricio Pochettino opted to rest many of his starting players on Thursday versus Borussia Dortmund, while Dele Alli missed the Europa League clash due to suspension. There’s no question that Spurs have enough talent within their side to win the title, but catching Leicester seems more and more unrealistic as our belief of the Foxes grows.

Let’s just put this in perspective for a moment. Villa concedes two-and-a-half goals on average for every goal they bag themselves. Pressure is on, Spurs.

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The battle for PL mediocrity

AFC Bournemouth vs. Swansea City — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Neither side really has anything to play for other than further assurance that they’ll be playing top-flight football next season. While both Bournemouth and Swansea have shown moments of surprise during the 2015-16 campaign, Saturday’s matchup is nothing more than average. A win for the Cherries would give Eddie Howe‘s side 10 wins on the year though, and that is a feat that deserve some applause after the uncertainty kicked off the PL season.

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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Kelechi Iheanacho and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City look dejected after the second Spurs goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on February 14, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

City-Norwich presents key fixture for different reasons

Norwich City vs. Manchester City — Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET

[READ: Aguero set to return to Independiente following 2018 WC ]

The Citizens hold a slim chance to capture this year’s PL title, therefore a win versus Norwich will be critical. City currently sits 10 points behind Leicester. The team they’re facing though has just as much to play for on Saturday. The Canaries, 18th on the table as things stand, are firmly in the relegation battle. A win against Manuel Pellegrini‘s side would go a long way in preventing a slide to the Championship next season.

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Battle of underrated sides has meaning in chase for Europe

Stoke City vs. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

We’ve said this a million times this year, but this PL season is unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed. Stoke City and Southampton currently occupy eighth and ninth positions in the Premier League, giving each side a shot at qualifying for Europe next season. While it’s unlikely that either team will, it simply cannot be ruled out given the craziness that has transpired over the last eight months. Wouldn’t it be something if Stoke (who holds a minus-three goal differential) makes it into the Europa League?

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Koeman criticizes Van Gaal, says he “thinks he knows everything”

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Ronald Koeman and Louis van Gaal are two Dutch managers in their first year in the Premier League.

Koeman’s Southampton side currently sit in fifth place, one point behind Van Gaal’s Manchester United.

[ RELATED: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Despite United’s higher standing on the table, the side has often been called out for poor performances, while Koeman has been praised for his work at St. Mary’s.

Now Koeman is speaking out about his fellow Dutchman, saying Van Gaal can sometimes be too confrontational with players, and touches on the differences in their coaching styles.

Speaking to Dutch television:

When you bring in Van Gaal you bring in quality but you also bring in someone who thinks he knows everything and that will cause clashes.

When you have Van Gaal in charge, it is a fact that there is fear in his team and that is not always good.

I was his assistant at Barcelona after the World Cup in 1998 and I learned a lot of things from him, but there is a big difference between him and me as managers.

The way he handles his players is totally different. I don’t put as much pressure on the shoulders of my players.

After Van Gaal coached the Dutch national team at the World Cup, the Dutch federation had to bring in a manager who would bring in a softer touch. The players needed an arm around their shoulder, someone calmer.”

Koeman is referencing his time as Van Gaal’s assistant at Barcelona in the late 90’s, where the two helped lead the club to the La Liga title in 1999.

[ RELATED: Monaco exec says they’ll gladly take Falcao back ]

Although Van Gaal hasn’t caused any major clashes with players (that we know of), he has made a name for himself through his sometimes strange-yet entertaining press conferences. No matter the performance United puts in, LVG seemingly always has a witty and calculated response for the media, even if it’s not the answer people want to hear.

Koeman can criticize Van Gaal for his coaching style and overall attitude, but he can’t argue that LVG gets results wherever he manages. He just led the Netherlands to the World Cup semifinals this summer, and despite all the talk surrounding Manchester United’s season, the Red Devils are still in the top four and in position to get back into the Champions League next season.

It will be interesting to see if Van Gaal responds to Koeman’s criticism, because we all knw LVG isn’t always quick to bite his tongue.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea’s rebound, City’s stumble and a Bad News guest

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo discuss Chelsea’s rebound, City’s stumble and Southampton’s Six-Pack 3-pointer, as well as homecomings for Jozy Altidore and Mix Diskerud. WWE Intercontinental Champ and Preston North End fan Bad News Barrett guests.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click below:

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Follow them on Twitter @MenInBlazers, and find Rog at @rogbennett and Davo at @embassydavies.

Sneak peek: The Southampton Way

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How does Southampton compete with Premier League giants? This early look at Roger Bennett’s documentary “The Southampton Way” (premiering Jan. 1 at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) provides some insight with the video and below.

I had never visited Southampton before making “The Southampton Way.” I had always mentally pictured the city as a quaint Southern port. Upon my arrival, one of the club’s ground staff quickly set me straight. “The Germans bombed the crap out of us during the war,” he snorted, “we’ve never really recovered.”

Despite that, it is impossible not to be charmed by the town. Southampton FC have been one of English football’s most romantic narratives in 2014. A small terrier of a club who have convinced themselves of their ability to run with the big dogs.

That conviction is not ill-placed, nor is it built on alchemy. An investment in long-term youth development, a meticulous training strategy built by coaching guru Les Reed, and a scouting system that Billy Beane would be proud of, combine with a value-driven culture fostered by former-NHL coach turned club chairman, Ralph Krueger to create an environment that is rare for a Premier League team: one where optimism and strategy have been fused, and every department is encouraged to innovate in search of tiny competitive edges that can close the gap between Southampton and the petrodollar-fueled super clubs above.

Whether that gap can be closed remains to be seen. Romantic narratives are hard to sustain in modern football’s cruel, economic propelled reality — just look at Dortmund this season.

Yet no-one at the club would bite on my question of whether they regret not having Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Theo Walcott to run at the opposition, with Adam Lallana threading passes to Rickie Lambert, and Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers locking down the back. There is pride in their youth development conveyor belt but almost no hint of nostalgia nor regret.

All the employees I encountered at the club were immersed in both pragmatism and strategy. How far that will that take them remains to be seen. But as I walked around their stadium with Krueger, and asked where he will seat the Real Madrid fans should the club qualify for Europe, he immediately pointed to their prospective ticketing area calmly, with no hint of irony.

Follow Roger on Twitter at @rogbennett