Southampton’s biggest task, and possibly mission impossible, will be to keep Erling Haaland off the scoresheet when they visit Premier League champions Manchester City on Saturday.
Short of sneaking a sedative into the Norwegian goal machine’s lasagna, made by dad Alf-Inge before the last three home games, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s struggling team’s chances of success appear limited.
Unbeaten City have scored more goals than any side in Europe’s top five leagues this season and would go top if they win or draw on Saturday, with leaders Arsenal playing Liverpool on Sunday, who are only a point ahead.
Haaland has scored 14 of City’s 29 league goals, including hat-tricks in his previous three home games, and more scoring records are on the way.
“It’s not just his numbers, it’s the impact he’s having on defenders mentally,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports.
“I think defenders and players up and down the country will be going into the training grounds and they will be talking about Erling Haaland. How do you stop him?”
The 22-year-old striker could have had another hattrick in City’s 5-0 Champions League thrashing of FC Copenhagen on Wednesday, but manager Pep Guardiola brought him off at halftime after scoring twice, bringing his record to 19 goals in 11 appearances for City.
Worryingly for Southampton, the Spaniard stated that he wished to keep Haaland for Saturday.
“If the game would have been tight Erling would have continued but it is better to rest and think of Southampton, a team we were not able to beat last season,” Guardiola told reporters.
Hasenhuttl appears to be on borrowed time again, with the south coast team in 16th place with seven points after four defeats in their past five games.
Last season, the two teams drew 0-0 at the Etihad and 1-1 at St Mary’s.
“We know what team we are facing at the moment but I also know that we drew twice against them last season,” Hasenhuttl told reporters on Thursday. “We were one of the few teams that took points at the Etihad.
“If you reduce Man City to Erling Haaland … there are more players that you have to concentrate on, if you look (just) at Erling Haaland you will also not win this game.”
City will be without defender Kyle Walker, who had groin surgery this week, while Southampton have no major injury worries.