Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl wants his team to relish going up against the “pure football” of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
City’s 6-3 Champions League victory over RB Leipzig, one of Hasenhuttl’s former clubs, saw them chalk up 16 goals across three home games so far this season.
First Norwich and then Arsenal were swept aside 5-0 as City delivered the perfect response to opening with a Premier League defeat at Tottenham, since when Guardiola’s men have won four straight games.
Hasenhuttl accepts extending Southampton’s current unbeaten league run after three successive draws will be a tall order given the calibre of opposition.
Yet it is a challenge which the Austrian intends to tackle head on.
“It is pure football, pure Premier League, it is the highest level and this is why you want to do this job,” Hasenhuttl said.
“You know how tough it is, this is the challenge and the thing we like.
“To surprise Pep is quite hard, because he always finds the answers, but our goal is to keep the game open as long as possible.
“I know Pep will come with everything they have, it will be tough to compete, but we have also some qualities.
“This is why the Premier League is so special, every weekend you face fantastic opponents and very experienced managers.
“The feeling before a game is a mixture of enjoying what is to come, high respect about the opponent, but always hoping for the big surprise for everybody.
“We go there with a good balance of braveness and respect.”
Despite all of City’s attacking talent – with £100million signing Jack Grealish having scored a well-taken goal on his Champions League debut – Hasenhuttl knows Southampton cannot afford just to sit back in damage limitation mode.
“We always try to give our opponents a few moments where they have to worry about us,” he said.
“But in the end it will not help only to press high and it will also not help to stay always around the box.
“We have seen different ways of teams playing against and everybody tried something else, but very often, City had also in the end the win.
“Nobody expects that we now take the first win against Man City, but this is also the chance, when you can go there without a big pressure for the win.
“The next two away games are definitely maybe the most difficult in this season, against Man City and then against Chelsea, but we must be ready for it.
“We had a good week to prepare, this is all we can do and then we must show the best possible performance.”
Southampton will have Republic of Ireland striker Shane Long available again after he recovered from a positive Covid-19 test while on international duty.
Midfielder Will Smallbone has stepped up his recovery after a long-term knee problem, but, along with winger Theo Walcott and Stuart Armstrong, will not be rushed into a return.
Hasenhuttl said: “We give them all the time they need to come back, because we have enough alternatives, especially for these positions.”