SAINTS are given the toughest task in English football on Saturday. And I do not just mean facing Erling Haaland at the Etihad Stadium.
That, in itself, has proven impossible with the last three teams to challenge the Norwegian there finding themselves on the end of hattricks.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side must visit Pep Guardiola’s title-charging Manchester City, staff and players alike knowing the pressure that is currently squeezing the Austrian.
Saints have lost each of their last three but the message from the boss is one of progress. Three ‘tight’ games, he points to, ending only in a one-goal defeat.
City represent a different task. Hasenhuttl’s charges picked up draws home and away last campaign and that will likely be the target again.
Anything other than demolition at the hands of the English champions is respectable. Hasenhuttl may revert to the five-at-the-back and may be wise to do so. Here’s how we think he could line up.
Gavin Bazunu is learning that the Premier League is tough and is yet to keep a clean sheet, but retains the faith of Hasenhuttl and supporters. At 20-years-old, the Republic of Ireland international promises to be a very good goalkeeper.
Hasenhuttl abandoned the five-at-the-back early in the season as it clearly was not working but is likely to return to it at Etihad Stadium.
A defensive trio of Armel Bella-Kotchap, Duje Caleta-Car and Mohammed Salisu feels too good to not take advantage of and Kyle Walker-Peters and Romain Perraud can support at both ends of the pitch.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles struggled on his first Saints start versus Everton, typified by his early booking for a completely mistimed challenge. It means James Ward-Prowse might have a different supporting cast.
It could be Ibrahima Diallo and Stuart Armstrong making it a three in the middle of the park, supporting two strikers but the former focusing on the defensive side.
Che Adams will be the furthest man forward and the focal point of long balls, looking to direct and control those where possible under duress from City’s defenders.
Joe Aribo has scored twice in his first Premier League season so far and is displaying the most composure in the squad. He will start as a striker but his positioning will be varied and his task to turn scraps into chances.
Full predicted XI: