SAINTS must attempt to shackle a rejuvenated Sergio Aguero this weekend as they continue their late-season chase for a top eight finish.
No Premier League player has belted more club goals than the Argentinian ace in 2016/17 - even though he has not been a regular in Pep Guardiola’s attacking armoury.
Aguero has racked up 28 goals in 38 league and cup appearances, including 10 in his last 10 outings after returning to the first team following a bad injury to Gabriel Jesus.
Saints’ League Cup final nemesis Zlatan Ibrahimovic has also netted 28 club goals, though he has played five games more than Aguero.
The latter’s presence will provide the sternest test for Saints’ centre half pairing of Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens since they came together almost three months ago.
Those two have played the last eight league games together - as well as the League Cup final - following Virgil van Dijk’s injury against Leicester on January 22.
In those eight league games, Saints have conceded 10 goals - but only one of them has come in the last three matches.
Yoshida and Stephens’ form has ensured that Uruguayan international Martin Caceres is surprisingly still waiting for his competitive debut for the club, despite a high profile arrival in mid February.
Caceres, who played his third U23 game on Monday against Liverpool at St Mary’s, will almost certainly remain on the bench this Saturday.
Aguero didn’t play at Saints last season, instead being rested for a Champions League semi final tie against Real Madrid in early May.
But he will be running out at St Mary’s this weekend after netting more goals in 38 appearances than Saints’ four frontline strikers - Charlie Austin, Manolo Gabbiadini, Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long - have in 91 between them.
Austin remains Saints’ top scorer with nine goals, even though he has not played since early December due to injury, from 13 starts plus six sub outings.
Gabbiadini has belted six goals in only five starts, while Rodriguez has five goals in 15 starts plus 13 off the bench.
Long, last season’s player of the year, has also struck five times in 18 starts plus 21 sub appearances.
That’s a total of 25 goals in 91 appearances Aguero, though, was facing an uncertain future at City two months ago following the explosive impact of January arrival Jesus.
Aguero was on the bench for three successive games, until the Brazilian teenager suffered a broken metatarsal against Bournemouth on February 14.
The 28-year-old has been back in the starting XI ever since, and last weekend won high praise from Guardiola after his performance against Hull.
The boss said his goal ace had taken “an amazing step forward” in the last two months.
“He’s more involved in the game, he’s not just in the box scoring goals,” he said.
“He’s arrived in our process. He’s touching and involving. He comes and gets out for the central defenders, spreads out for the positions he normally leaves, and makes the actions, and I like to see that.”
Aguero is head and shoulders in front of anyone else in terms of goals scored in the last six Premier League seasons.
In his debut campaign, 2011/12, he struck 30 times in all competitions and added 28 more in 2013/14.
In 2014/15 he netted 32 goals, while last season he scored 29 times.
Jesus is on the road to recovery and could feature in the FA Cup semi final against Arsenal on April 23.
Guardiola will then have to decide if Aguero and Jesus could play together.
If they can, then at least one of Leroy Sane, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva or Raheem Sterling must be dropped.