Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl believes Manchester City already have the Premier League title in the bag ahead of their visit to St Mary’s.
Reigning champions City travel to the south coast 11 points clear of second-placed Liverpool following a remarkable 12-match winning run.
Jurgen Klopp’s Reds and third-placed Chelsea had threatened to make it one of the most exciting title races in years before significantly falling off the pace in recent weeks.
Hasenhuttl, who masterminded a creditable goalless draw at the Etihad Stadium in September, is in awe of the way Pep Guardiola’s relentless side have blown away their rivals.
“If it wouldn’t be Man City I would say maybe it’s not over but I cannot see them dropping this amount of points with the way they’re playing,” he said ahead of Saturday’s game.
“You see how tight the Premier League is but they seem to be the only team that has the consistency to win games consistently in the moment.
“I think this is the key fact in the Premier League; draws can push you back immediately and winning of the games is so, so tough.
“But I think the way they play and the dominance they have, especially with the ball, is a very energetic way of winning games.
“It sometimes looks like a training match for them because they are so dominant and so good on the ball and so settled in what they’re doing.
“There is a good energy in this team and they don’t use a lot of energy for winning games.
“Every time when they do something good, it looks so easy and so light. But it isn’t, it’s also hard work. But it doesn’t look like this and this is why they are the best.”
Southampton go into the weekend occupying 12th position, with 24 points from 21 games following last weekend’s 3-1 loss at Wolves.
In addition to earning a point at City earlier this campaign, Hasenhuttl also led Saints to a surprise 1-0 home win over them two seasons ago.
The Austrian relishes the tough assignments against Guardiola’s men.
And, given City have had a full week’s rest since beating Chelsea last Saturday and also have a fortnight off following the game, he is braced for the best they have to offer.
“We have shown a good performance in the first game against them this season but their situation is a bit different now, I think,” said Hasenhuttl.
“They had the whole week to prepare for this game and next week they have no game, so they will come with the best possible squad and I’m sure Pep will take this game very seriously, even though he has a big lead at the moment in the table.
“For me, they are by far the best team in the league, not only because of the points they have.
“They are one of the biggest challenges we have every year but also one of the challenges I like the most because this is why you are in the Premier League, why you want to face these games and these teams because you learn.
“We have learned a lot from the games against him and we will need a very, very good performance to get a chance to get something.”
England Under-21 right-back Tino Livramento remains absent for Southampton.
However, the 19-year-old – who has missed Saints’ last four matches with a knee issue – could soon resume full training.
“I don’t want to put pressure on Tino but I am hoping that after the (two-week) break (following the City game) we can see him back on the pitch with the players, hopefully without a reaction from the knee,” said Hasenhuttl.
“This is our time schedule but we will have a look.”