Pep Guardiola has hailed James Ward-Prowse as ‘exceptional’ and says Manchester City are prepared for a ‘tough’ test at Southampton tomorrow.
City travel to face the Saints tomorrow evening looking to continue their recent form, having won 12 consecutive Premier League fixtures to open up an 11-point lead at the top of the division.
Guardiola is anticipating a difficult challenge at St Mary’s, however, and has hailed Ralph Hasenhuttl as one of the ‘best’ managers in the league.
“The quality they [Southampton] have and manager is exceptional, one of the best in the league, it is always a tough game,” Guardiola said at his pre-match press conference.
“It’s an incredible challenge tomorrow and we know it.”
Guardiola also reserved praise for James Ward-Prowse, who will once again be a major threat from set-pieces tomorrow evening.
The England international scored a stunning free-kick in Southampton’s defeat to Wolves last weekend and is now joint-second for free-kick goals scored in Premier League history.
Guardiola called the 27-year-old an ‘exceptional’ talent and believes Ward-Prowse is the best set-piece taker in world football right now.
“He is the best taker I have ever seen, right now in the world. No player is a better taker than Ward-Prowse.
View this post on Instagram
“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.”
The Spaniard was questioned on the mood at City following the club’s winning run, but says his side’s focus remains on one game at a time as the champions look to retain the title.
“Just focus on Southampton. What we have done so far, I couldn’t care less,” he said. “The mood is good, I’m so satisfied with the players. The focus for the last week was Southampton.”
Guardiola also provided an update on his squad and confirmed Nathan Ake is fit to return, though Oleksandr Zinchenko will again be missing against the Saints. Riyad Mahrez has been granted a week off after his involvement in the Africa Cup of Nations ended following Algeria’s group stage exit.
“Nathan is ready, Zinchenko, no,” he said. As for Mahrez, he added: “He has a holiday for a week. After African Cup, he has permission for a week off and to come back next week.”