The reigning Premier League champions have endured a frustrating season and sit nine points shy of Manchester United.
Zabaleta has been one of City's shining lights and his performances have caught the eye of many, including Pochettino.
The Argentinian pair played together at Spanish side Espanyol and the Saints boss is proud of his old friend.
''I know him because we shared the same dressing room,'' Pochettino said. ''The problem won't be just playing against him, but the fact he has 10 colleagues with him.
''That said, he arrived in Spain when he was very young and has been maturing. He is at a high point now with Manchester City.
''He is the same now as he was then. He has not changed. He has a great mentality, a winning mentality, aggressive - the typical sort of player in the Premier League.''
Zabaleta's contribution seems to be getting recognition at last - something Pochettino, himself a former defender, is pleased to see.
''Teams need players with different characteristics but what people notice most is the goals,'' he said. ''That is what is prized most.
''But the trainers, the manager, attach a lot of value to players that provide the ball to be scored.
''I think he is amongst the top 10 players in his position in the world.
''That is demonstrated by the fact his place in one of the best teams around in Manchester City and the Argentinian national team.''
Pochettino may be looking forward to seeing Zabaleta tonight but he is hoping to disappoint him at St Mary's, with Southampton looking for a first win since his arrival.
''I want to point out the great willingness they've all shown and also how willing they've been to accept the new management, the new philosophy,'' said Pochettino, who has so far overseen two draws and a win.
''I don't like to compare but we've seen the team which is in a very good line of play at the moment.
''We've deserved better reward from teams we've played up until now.''