Ruben Selles believes rock-bottom Southampton have a “solid and robust game plan” as they look to stifle returning striker Erling Haaland and shock title-chasing Manchester City.
The relegation-threatened Saints enter the weekend 20th in the table and four points from safety having failed to win any of their last four matches.
Unless things change quickly, Southampton’s 11-year stay in the Premier League will soon be over, with their poor form and position compounded by a challenging run-in.
Pep Guardiola’s City provide an unenviable challenge at St Mary’s on Saturday evening, when Haaland is shaping up to return from injury for the reigning Premier League champions.
Asked if it is a case of hoping the Norwegian sharpshooter has an off day, Saints boss Selles retorted: “No, no, we don’t work with hope.
“We work with facts and with situations that we can control the better.
“I don’t think, per se, one player can change the dynamic of one team. I think one player can change it if the other 10 are doing their job properly.
“So, the fact that Manchester City now has Haaland in front just makes their system a little bit better because of the creation of the chances.
“With Ruben Dias in the build-up, Ederson’s long distribution, Kevin De Bruyne in the half spaces, (Ilkay) Gundogan, Bernardo (Silva), Rodri as a central player, they make it possible.
“It’s not about only Erling Haaland. It is about a team that knows how to use their players in the best way possible, so that’s what we are focusing on.
“If Erling is there, then good, we will play against him.
“If not, they have the striker (Julian Alvarez) that won the World Cup with Argentina and it’s a team that has great players, so we respect every player, but we have our own way to do things.”
Saints lost the reverse fixture 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium in October, only to stun City 2-0 in January’s Carabao Cup quarter-final clash.
Selles was still working as first-team coach back then but the divisive Nathan Jones’ sacking saw the Spaniard installed as manager for the rest of the season, meaning he will go toe-to-toe with one of his idols.
“It’s exciting just to play some of them, also to play against Pep,” the Southampton manager said.
“Then let’s see what we can do. I think we prepared a solid and robust game plan.
“I think the boys know what to do exactly and then with our way to approach things, and our style, we are going to try to put a big performance there and try to win the game, that’s for sure.
“But, yeah, it’s exciting for me. It’s not only about Pep, it’s about the other managers, but in this game (I face him).
“I think Pep has been one of the best managers in the last 10 years.
“He changed the football approach with his Barcelona some years ago, and he’s a coach that everybody has been studying and everybody, in one way or the other, has tried to copy.
“For me, it’s a pleasure, as I say with many others, and I will try to get the very best out of the situation.”
Che Adams and Mohammed Salisu have been ruled out of the City game.
Germany international Armel Bella-Kotchap is a doubt, while Tino Livramento and Juan Larios remain long-term absentees.