Claude Puel still regards out-of-sorts Manchester City as the benchmark
Southampton manager Claude Puel insists Manchester City remain the team to beat in the Premier League.
City made a storming start to the season but have faltered of late with a four-game winless run culminating in Wednesday's 4-0 Champions League defeat to a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona.
But Puel, whose team were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Inter Milan in the Europa League a day later, refutes suggestions that now is the best time to be facing Pep Guardiola's wobbling side.
"I think Manchester played a good game, a good style of game against Barcelona," he said. "For me there was no big difference between the two teams, apart from one player, Messi, who made the difference.
"But I saw a very good team at the start against Barcelona with quality, a good collective and good players.
"If they can do good work against us it's important for us to think and prepare. Just two days between the games is very difficult and Manchester have had more time to recover.
"It's difficult to play against Manchester City, or Barcelona, because they like to have the ball, they have quality. It's difficult to defend against.
"It's the challenge for us on Sunday to find the solution, but not just to defend. It's important to play and give problems to this team. It's important to play our football.
"We have played good football since the start of the season. Will will see against City because City are for me, the top, so it's a good challenge for us to see our progress in the Premier League."
Sunday's trip to the Etihad will be the second time Puel has come up against Guardiola - almost eight years ago as manager of Lyon he took on the Spaniard's Barca side in the Champions League.
Lyon secured a 1-1 draw in the first leg but Barcelona won the tie 6-3 on aggregate and went on to beat Manchester United in the final.
"It was the start of his managerial career but it was a fantastic performance," recalled Puel.
"We got a draw at home and in the return Barcelona were fantastic, it was not possible for us to play.
"The technical skills of the players and their recovery of the ball was fantastic.
"The following seasons Barcelona were even better. He changed the philosophy of their play.
"For the moment Manchester City are not at the same level. Obviously it will take time for Guardiola but we can see since the beginning of the season a good team.
"For me they can win the championship because they have the best collective in the Premier League and can progress throughout the year."