A goal-fest, surely, awaits. As if it is not enticing enough for the Premier League's favourites to crash headlong into each other's sights next weekend, it is also a meeting of the two teams whose scoring exploits are way ahead of the rest this season. Both Liverpool and Manchester City went into the weekend having taken their goals-for column past the 80 mark (the next best, Chelsea, are in the 60s). Manuel Pellegrini, after watching his team rack up four without being at their most sparkling, is glad his striking options are growing at such a critical time. The imminent return of Sergio Agüero gives him a full quartet for the run-in.
In what might have been a conveniently generalised swipe at his old nemesis José Mourinho, Pellegrini espoused his theory that the "important teams, big teams", as he defined it, have a duty to search for goals and have a dash of cavalier spirit about them. Those who "just want to win 1-0 and give all the possession of the ball to the other team, score one goal and always defend during 90 minutes" goes against his philosophy, for better or for worse.
He insists he will send out his team to win at Anfield, even though mathematically a draw is enough to keep City in control of their title destiny. "Maybe I am wrong but I always think in the same way as a manager – if you play to draw you will lose," he said. "So we are going to play to win. Of course after the game if we couldn't win the game and we draw, it's a good result but we are not going to play against Liverpool thinking we must draw. We don't know to play in that way."
Pellegrini feels that the attacking strides made this season by Liverpool and City have a broader message. "I am very happy for football," he says. "For attractive football, creative football. That's why I think Liverpool have a lot of merits in the year they are doing so far because they are an attractive team and they always score.
"We tried from the beginning of the season to play attractive football and be an offensive and creative team. But on the other side maybe at the beginning we conceded too many goals. In the second half [of the season] we improved in defence and are at the moment a very balanced team."
Outwardly, Pellegrini betrayed no concern over the periods when Southampton made that balance look questionable – they bossed the game, if not the scoreline, for most of the first half. But it was telling he made a strategic adjustment after the break, introducing Javi García for Fernandinho and squeezing the spaces Southampton enjoyed manoeuvring their way through.
Edin Dzeko was influential as City were able to profit against Southampton during a match in which moments, rather than dominance, won the day. The two attacking substitutes, Álvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic, made an impact, too. Now Agüero is ready to be unleashed after almost a month on the sidelines. His darting runs and killer finishing add such zest to his team, and if he returns in the kind of predatory form he left with – 13 goals in 11 games – there will be quite some battle of attacking wits on show at Anfield.
Might ruthlessness be vital on the day? Pellegrini replied with an inscrutable expression. "Normally those games finish 0-0 … " he quipped.
David Silva's zest in the supporting role is another plus point and Pellegrini was delighted with his Spanish creator, who has been playing sweetly, despite feeling the effects of a kick on his ankle. "It is very important at the end of the season to have high individual performances and he is one of our players who is in a very good moment," noted Pellegrini.
Southampton left the Etihad with emotions running high. Adam Lallana expressed the distress felt in the dressing room at Jay Rodriguez's plight – he suffered a knee injury that looked ominously bad. "We are all absolutely devastated for him," said Lallana. "He's an unbelievable lad and he's proven this season what a player he is, and he got his rewards internationally. Forget the decision for the offside. Forget the result, forget everything. We are just so disappointed for Jay."
The club's England World Cup hopefuls all felt it particularly keenly and Rickie Lambert admitted Rodriguez's "head was gone" when they saw him after the final whistle. "He's been superb for us, he's been on fire all season," Lambert said. "We knew straight away from seeing his face that it was bad – and it's horrible. A few of the lads – Jack Cork in particular – went round and said 'let's do this for Jay'. We tried to put in a performance for him. I think we did that."
Man of the match Edin Dzeko (Manchester City)