Southampton can take immense pride in the consecutive promotions with which Nigel Adkins has restored the club to the top flight, wrote Kevin McCarra in yesterday's Guardian, but this game might be seen as a trial for a club that has come so far so soon. It would be a surprise if Manchester City did not revel in the occasion at the Etihad Stadium. The manager, Roberto Mancini, seemed frustrated this summer by a halt to the large-scale recruitment policy of the past, but a settled squad may be formidable as players improve their rapport with one another.
Preamble: The last time we saw Southampton in the Premier League, a second-half Ruud van Nistelrooy goal scuppered their hopes of avoiding relegation (well, that and the two scored by Geoff Horfield and Kieran Richardson, which made West Brom safe); Rupert Lowe attempted to defend his reign to protestors by highlighting the quality of the catering at St Mary's; and Harry Redknapp promised that if he left the club it would be to retire, not to mosey back to Portsmouth having made up his differences with Milan Mandaric. But enough nostalgia! Today Nigel Adkins's side is here on a tailwind after two successive promotions and the club is about to break its transfer record for the second time this summer with the signing of Bologna's Gaston Ramirez. The money could perhaps do with being spent at the back, however - Southampton were pretty sound last season, but there isn't much pressure on Jose Fonte's place and that 4-0 pre-season defeat to Udinese will feel rather more ominous given that the season starts against Manchester City.
The last time we saw City in the Premier League, of course, they were busy winning it. Really busy. Roberto Mancini's side didn't let QPR touch the ball in the final 45 minutes of last season but took until stoppage time to score the decisive goals - one either side of the whistle blowing on Manchester United's 1-0 win over Sunderland. United finished their match top of the table but were bumped down to second before they could get to the dressing room and crack open the T-shirts. Now Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson are arguing about which of the two teams has the best chance of taking this year's title ("No, you're squad is peachiest" - we're about three days from FACTS if things carry on as they are), but with United playing Everton tomorrow, City must admit to having the "easier" start. True, they're in unfamiliar territory just as Southampton are, having a title to defend for the first time since the 68-69 season. And true, they've no firm idea of their opponents, prompting Mancini to remind everyone that it took City almost an hour to get going against newcomers Swansea at this point last season, but it's probably the next bit of his sentence that we should pay attention to: "We might have won that game 4-0 in the end, but..."
Manchester City (apparently abandoning 3-5-2 for 4-4-2): Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure, Rodwell, Silva, Nasri, Tevez, Aguero.
Southampton (apparently abandoning common sense): Davis, Clyne, Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox, Ward-Prowse, Schneiderlin, Lallana, Puncheon, Guly, Rodriguez.
So no Rickie Lambert or Billy Sharp for Southampton, with Guly do Prado preferred up front with the new boy Jay Rodriguez and Jason Puncheon. James Ward-Prowse's pre-season seems to have done the trick, too; the 17-year-old starts in the three-man midfield.
Debutant Jack Rodwell: Jamie Redknapp has just used the word 'dream' three times, and the phrase 'a good size' twice.
A bit of moaning cleverly disguised as betting information You'll get odds of 5/4 on Manchester City winning the Best League in the World this season, while Southampton are 3500/1.
"This is it now, it's a marvellous feeling, there's a buzz in the dressing room," reports Nigel Adkins, who's wearing a father-of-the-bride grin. "We know it's going to be challenging, we've got to make sure it's as challenging for the opposition as well. Today we're presented with different challenges; Guly's done well in pre-season... and what great players to bring off the bench."
4 minutes and 35 seconds before kick off - the timing of the first mention of Robin van Persie. More than 22 players who are not Robin van Persie are gathering in the tunnel.
My inbox has a habit of diverting emails to quarantine during live events. A prize* to the first person who manages to get something interesting and/or funny through the Automated Random Email Bouncer.
* There is no prize except pride
Kick off After a high-tempo chorus of Blue Moon, Howard Webb's Howard Webb blows his whistle to get the game underway, the ball rolling from the toe of Aguero to Tevez, today sporting a turned up collar. City wear their pale blue home kit, Southampton are in all-red.
1 min David Silva is removed from the pitch because the tape around his ankles does not match the blue of his socks. Oh football.
2 min Rodwell gets the first applause of the afternoon, sliding in to clear the ball from Lallana's feet after the Southampton winger had beaten Kompany. Southampton don't manage to get the corner into the box, though, and City move as one towards the other end of the pitch.
5 min A lively, bustling start from Southampton, this, and they've probed down both flanks to see what mischief they might be able to make. Guly is halted just as he tries to work in from the right, though, and City are only halted by the offside flag, held up to signal that Tevez had gone too early. It was a well-directed early pass from Kompany, and one that would have presented Southampton with problems had Tevez waited a second.
8 min Clyne makes a good tackle to dispossess Aguero, running down City's left, but he catches the City forward's leg under him as they both slide across the turf, and Aguero seems to have twisted his knee - he looks in real pain, and tenses as the physios try to manipulate it. Mario Balotelli is warming up.
11 min Aguero is up and hobbling towards the sideline, booed by the Southampton fans and raucously cheered by his own. "I've never actually watched Nathaniel Clyne play "real" football before, but I do know that he develops into a world class, marauding right back in Fifa 12 Manager mode," guffaws Dan Schulwolf. I said there would be pride, I didn't say the bar would be set high.
13 min Schneiderlin's shot from just outside the area never really looked like it would trouble Hart's goal without the interference of a crease in the Etihad turf, but Southampton are upset not to have been given a free-kick for Lescott's scything tackle on Rodriguez, who turned nicely after Guly's slaloming run on the right. Aguero is being stretchered off, and it's Edin Dzeko coming on in his place.
15 min A chance at the other end as Dzeko sneaks between two defenders and gets the ball in behind them, but the Southampton defence recovers in time to block his effort and Silva's follow-up. Moments later Zabaleta strokes a shot goalwards and it's deflected across goal, but cleared.
16 min PENALTY for City! Hooiveld points to the ball but it's not clear why - it is busy bimbling over the byline while Tevez, with whom he actually did make contact, is lying on the floor in the area.
17 min MISSED PENALTY for City! What an abysmal effort by Silva, virtually bobbling across the turf and straight to Kelvin Davis, who went the right way but probably had time to go the wrong way and get back again to save that.
20 min Tevez is weaving those little trails around the penalty box that lend you to thinking that a goal is only a matter of time. He doesn't quite manage to combined with Zabaleta this time, but the No5 is pretty much camped on his shoulder.
22 min City are having more of the ball, but are currently trapped between the halfway line and the edge of Southampton's area. "Why can't they use clear tape on their socks???" Andrew Goudie demands to know - look, there are three question marks and everything. I think we all know that this merely presents the clubs with an additional branding opportunity.
25 min Dzeko and Silva try to Arsenal the ball through about eight Southampton players camped just inside the penalty box, which ends with the latter on his backside and the ball being hoofed away. I'm not sure there was a shot on, really, but they were never going to thread the ball through that tangle of legs.
29 min We're just under halfway in and it's probably just about legitimate to start asking whether Southampton will have the energy for this in the second half. City are dictating things all over the pitch, with Tevez, Silva and Zabaleta combining well down the right. Tevez's cross from that area was destined for the forehead of Dzeko until Fonte's leap enables him to intercept and send it skimming over everybody.
31 min City make down the left this time, Clichy swinging a cross in for Fonte to clear. Nasri's corner swooshes behind everyone in the penalty area though, and the home side have to work from the beginning again. Southampton have retreated somewhat, with only Guly beyond the centre circle.
32 min I'll mention that Tevez shot, as it's the done thing, but Davis probably wasn't that worried about it. There was a moment of high excitement as Tevez ran on to the ball in the D, but he hit it straight at the Southampton keeper.
35 min Toure is penalised for a clunking tackle from behind, giving Southampton a free-kick a few yards inside City's half - they try to work it goalwards, though, and come unstuck about two passes forward. A moment later Lallana launches a cross in from the left which Zabaleta handles; this free-kick will definitely be launched into the area.
36 min Nasri heads the free-kick out for a corner,but Hooiveld and Rodriguez both go for it and end up getting in each other's way. Somewhere in the Sky studio, they'll-have-to-make-the-most-of-those-chances is being saddled up and given a palm full of sugar cubes.
39 min We're still stuck on David Silva's socks. "How many managers are now wondering if they can have him removed from the pitch as his name doesn't match the rest of his kit?" puns Phil.
40 min GOAL! Tevez! Finally a pass that penetrates the Southampton lines, Nasri taking a moment to assess the situation and then stroking the ball with his instep for Tevez, who takes one look at Davis and then slides the ball in close to the near post. There's a suspicion of offside, there, but Gary Neville says Clyne was playing Tevez on, and I'm not arguing with that haircut.
44 min A disappointing way for Southampton to concede, that: it's almost half time and even if Tevez was offside, Davis will surely feel he should have done better with a shot that wasn't far from him. He manages to block and then gather Dzeko's shot, hit as he slid to the ground trying to turn his man, mind.
45 +2 min The board says four minutes of added time, accounted for by Aguero's injury. City look in the mood to keep the ball for that entire time, Zabaleta sticking to his role as an auxiliary winger and zipping the ball across the area to Nasri to set off a string of passes that weave backwards and forwards across the penalty box. Davis makes a good block but can't scoop the ball up and it's stabbed back to Silva, but his shot is blocked at source.
Half time There's a hint of a young Steven Gerrard in full Roy of the Rovers mode about Lallana as he strides up through the middle, hoping that gravitational pull might bring his teammates with him, but he's forced to pass backwards and the half ends with a looping ball forward bouncing in to Hart's palms.
Half time nonsense (not the same as in-play nonsense)
"Please give us a shout-out in the MBM," beg Alison Walters and Chris Mulligan, English ex-pats in Washington DC. "After being forced to watch Euro 2012 and the Olympics on US television, we are now sorely missing home coverage. We're even missing Alan Shearer on Match of the Day." Hand yourselves in to your nearest embassy immediately.
What's the best dunking biscuit? I find two small biscuits sandwiched around some buttercream makes for a good dunking experience, though digestives are an obvious choice to withstand high temperatures. Has anyone ever successfully dunked with oaty ones?
Nathan Paterson has a slightly more important question: "Was Tevez booked for his celebration [lifting his shirt to reveal a message] or does this not happen anymore?" He wasn't booked, but I don't know if that's because of a rule change or just that Webb missed it. That's certainly possible - Tevez only lifted his shirt as you do when you get home after a particularly sweaty car journey, not over his face.
46 min Guly and Lallana kick off the second half, Southampton playing from left to right and looking for a goal to draw them level.
48 min Geoff Shreeves reports that City are cautiously optimistic about Aguero's injury, before heading off to tell Aguero that his goatee looks rubbish, just to level things up. "I've always found ginger nuts work pretty well for dunking," says Jamie Tucker. "Not only do they not fall apart, but they genuinely taste much better once laden with tea (and I quite like them anyway)." They do, don't they? "Can't say they work so well with coffee, mind." You'd be hard pressed to find many biscuits that work well with coffee.
50 min Almost a second for City! Nasri twisted and turned to shrug off the attentions of Clyne, who kept coming back until eventually he got too dizzy and fell over, giving Nasri the chance to poke the ball along the byline and then ping it back to Dzeko. There's a suggestion that he wasn't expecting the ball, thus explaining the poor touch that goes straight to Davis, but the replay seems to show that he steadied himself for a shot and just miscued the contact.
52 min Oof, Toure's arrived for the season ladies and gentleman, chipping a cute pass up and over to Clichy, who shoots with his first touch but can't find the target. "Bourbons," Tweets Mike Gibbons. "Accept no substitute."
54 min Puncheon - back on his own byline - loses control of the ball to concede a corner, from which most of the crowd shouts for a handball as a Zabaleta's shot is blocked. We've had no replays so I'm not sure, but everyone seems to have gotten over it quite quickly.
55 min Silva hits the bar! What a chance. Tevez charges down the right again, beating Fox and whipping the ball in to the middle. Davis chooses to punch it away when he probably could have caught it - or at least pushed it away from danger - allowing Nasri the chance to pop it back in for Silva. He hits it first time but the ball pings up off the bar.
57 min Puncheon works an opening from the right and manages to find Lallana, but the ball is slightly behind him; the subsequent effort slightly wide.
59 min GOAL! Lambert comes on for Southampton and equalises! That was very nicely struck by a player who'd been on about two minutes. Guly had an effort blocked but City could not clear the ball out of their area properly, and Lambert enjoyed a time-slowing-down moment as the ball came across the penalty area to him, sweeping it beyond Hart with his right boot.
62 min Everything has become a bit noisier at the Etihad since that goal, the home fans urging their players to do something with the ball that they're still seeing so much of. Lambert replaced Rodriguez, by the way.
65 min Ward-Prowse is replaced by Steven Davis, a free transfer from Rangers. "Hob Knobs," says Liam Meehan - I think we're still talking about biscuits. Ah, yes. "Great solidity post-dunk, great aftertaste/texture. Also something to laugh at, then chastise yourself maturely."
68 min GOAL! Davis for Southampton! Schneiderlin concedes a free-kick about 28 yards out, for coming through the back of someone in blue. Tevez takes it after staring his best hard stare at Kelvin Davis, but he hits it straight in to the wall, and Southampton break from the resulting corner thanks to a terrible pass from Rodwell. Lallana was stopped by Lescott in the area, but kept the ball and turned to lay it off to Steven Davis, who puts it into the bottom-right corner with a low drive. Both subs have scored within moments of coming on. Nigel Adkins: tactical genius.
70 min What a start to life in the Premier League for Southampton; it would seem rather silly to be talking about biscuits while this is going on. "Here's a tip for discerning mbm readers," says Gavin Digby. "Cadburys chocolate fingers: bite off each end and use them as a straw to suck up the tea. Although maybe not that socially acceptable, they are delicious."
72 min GOAL! Dzeko draws City level! This game is scarily similar to the final day of last season. Edin Dzeko has just levelled things up, poking the ball up into the net after Kompany's effort was blocked and deflected to him. Southampton attack from the restart, having two shots blocked, and then City break and Balotelli shoots in to the side-netting from about eight yards out on the left. This is cup final football!
75 min Stand up for the champions, shout the home fans. Southampton must be tiring now but they have a quarter of an hour to play and a Toure free-kick to defend - Davis again bats the ball out in front of him, diving to his right to keep the ball out of his goal, and Silva is crowded out of getting anything on the rebound.
78 min Dzeko's header has just gone about a yard wide - close enough to have the crowd on their feet and Gary Neville's voice wobbling up the octaves. "Chocolate fingers as straws are all very well," says Adam Fletcher, "but the real deal is using fingers of Twix - you know you wanna."
79 min GOAL! Nasri gives City the lead! A superb cross by Clichy from the left sets that up, Fox backpedalling to get his head to it by the far post and managing only to knock it down for Nasri rather than lifting it clear. Nasri, who has been excellent today, strikes it in to the ground and zipping up into the net. He lifts his shirt over his head to reveal 'Eid Mubarak' - I didn't see a card come out.
You know how when you chuckle when you're really excited - meeting Su Pollard, say - and it comes out like a little seal bark? Neville's just done that. What a game this is.
83 min The away fans are going to have sore throats in the morning! Guly should do better than a thump-it-and-hope effort at a crowded penalty area, but the ball rebounds to a Southampton player - Lallana I think - who lays it back to Schneiderlin. His shot is deflected wide and from the corner, Lambert shoots over. It's a tough shot that he's got to hit first time, from slightly behind him.
85 min Puncheon is subbed off and replaced by Billy Sharp. Can Southampton pull that trick off a third time? "When it comes to dunking, shortcake are the Lionel Messi of the biscuit world." You are so right, Justin Kavanagh. A tin of shortcake is what makes Christmas with the family worth doing.
87 min Lambert, coming down the left, floats the ball over the penalty area to Sharp, whose shot is blocked. Guly swipes at the rebound but makes a holy hash of it. Tevez is replaced by Kolarov.
90 min City have stepped back from this game a little bit in the last couple of minutes, letting Southampton have the ball. Eventually Lallana has to try and get past Zabaleta, though, and it's not happening. Sharp manages to find space to get a cross off, but it's hoofed clear. There are three added minutes for Southampton to find an equaliser.
92 min Mancini orchestrated all this to prove a point to Ferguson.
Full time City end the game pinging one-touch passes around, but this has been a testing game for them - a second half that could as easily have gone awry as give the champions an opening victory. Nigel Adkins will be very pleased with Southampton's performance, and in particular the impact that his substitutes had. Mancini looks like his cookie has just sunk to the bottom a nice hot cup of earl grey, but he will take that. City looked very good, and the interplay between the front six was generally slick - Nasri, who was limping slightly at the end of the game, would be my player of the match. I'd best be off now. Thanks for joining me.