When facing the reigning Premier League champions, the last thing you need is to lose a talismanic figure in the middle of the park.
Southampton suffered that fate on Sunday, with Morgan Schneiderlin forced off at half-time as the Saints endeavoured to preserve their standing above Manchester City in the top-flight table.
They were holding their own as the two sides headed down the tunnel, but the tide turned against the hosts at St Mary’s as Ronald Koeman was forced into a reshuffle at the interval.
Within six minutes of the restart, City were in front and, despite being reduced to 10 men, would go on to win the game 3-0.
Jose Fonte admits Southampton struggled to contain Manuel Pellegrini’s side after losing their key ball-winner, with Koeman and co now hoping that Schneiderlin’s thigh strain will not keep him sidelined for long.
The Saints skipper said in the Daily Echo: “The first half we didn’t start well, but we got organised, defended well, then we grew into the game. We had a good chance, they had a good chance, and the first-half was quite even, after the first 15, 20 minutes.
“Then, obviously, with the substitution at half-time, with Morgan coming off, we lost a little bit our normal organisation and then it was hard. After the first goal, it was just too hard for us to get back the organisation.”
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Southampton, having made such an impressive start to their 2014/15 Premier League campaign, always knew that testing times were just around the corner.
They desperately need to get Schneiderlin off the treatment table and back into their starting XI, with a weekend defeat to City set to be followed by meetings with Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea before the turn of the year.
Koeman will be eager to ensure that the wheels do not come off the Saints wagon during the hectic festive period, but he needs to find suitable cover in an important area if a repeat of Sunday’s struggles is to be avoided.
Seeing Schneiderlin taken out of the spotlight ahead of the re-opening of the transfer window may be no bad thing, with it possible that attention will be turned elsewhere, but Southampton know they cannot afford to be without the France international for long if a sustained bid for a top-four finish is to be staged.