Pep Guardiola has heaped praise on Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse and revealed when Riyad Mahrez will return for Manchester City.
The Citizens travel to St Mary’s on Saturday evening in the Premier League. They will be attempting to extend their winning run to nine games in all competitions.
However, Saints will put up a stern test on the south coast, having beaten West Ham, drawn with Tottenham and overcome Brentford from Boxing Day onwards.
Threat will come from England midfielder James Ward-Prowse in particular. The set-piece specialist is now on 12 free-kick goals in the Prem, with only his hero David Beckham netting more (18).
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side lost 3-1 to Wolves last time out. But during that game Ward-Prowse showed off his fantastic technique with an 84th-minute strike.
Best in the world.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) January 15, 2022
At City’s pre-match press conference, Guardiola was asked about Ward-Prowse. He explained how the Premier League leaders could do with the 27-year-old in their squad. “He is the best taker I have ever seen, right now in the world. No player is a better taker than Ward-Prowse.
“He is so good, maybe we miss a little bit this quality of a football player. A guy who adapts in the same position, he’s a team player, great quality without the ball, with the ball, understanding the game. Set-pieces and corners is exceptional. We need to pay more attention.”
On Southampton as a whole, Guardiola continued: “The quality they have, the exceptional manager. One of the best in the league by far. Always was a tough game, the players know it. An incredible challenge tomorrow.”
The Spaniard then gave a brief update on the availabilities of centre-back Nathan Ake and Ukraine international Oleksandr Zinchenko. “Nathan is ready, Zinchenko, no,” he said.
Pep Guardiola talks Mahrez return
Attention then turned to wide man Riyad Mahrez. He captained reigning champions Algeria at the Africa Cup of Nations, only for them to be knocked out in the group stage against Ivory Coast.
“He has a holiday for a week. After African Cup, he has permission for a week off to come back next week.”
That means Mahrez will be available for the FA Cup tie against Fulham on February 5, as well as the following league match versus Brentford.
Guardiola is closing in on 500 points as City boss, although this achievement is not on his mind right now. “I’m not thinking of this when it hasn’t happened, it will happen sooner or later.
“[I’m thinking of] Southampton. We struggle in the first leg last season when we play there. When we play [at] home we won but we struggle in the actions. Southampton are a tough team. A real tough team.”