|By PAUL GOUGH
Manchester City's rapidly fading hopes of successfully defending their English Premier League title from last season could be all but ended if they drop more points away to improving Southampton in the pick of the seven matches on Saturday.
City, who last season clinched their first top-flight title in England for 44 years on virtually the last kick of the season at the expense of great rivals Manchester United, have slipped nine points behind the Red Devils in the race for the 2012-13 title after drawing their past two matches away to QPR and home to Liverpool.
But with United not in action until they host fifth-placed Everton on Sunday, Roberto Mancini's team have the chance to cut the gap at the top on Saturday.
Punters already believe the title race is effectively over, with United now at their shortest quote all season at Betfair - where punters set their own odds - at $1.15, while City have blown out to $8.20.
And while City are the $1.53 favourites at the TAB, $1.60 at Eskander's Betstar and best value of $1.67 at Betfair to win at Southampton on Saturday, they are far from certainties.
Southampton have also drawn six of their past eight games, which suggests the draw is great value in this game at $3.85 at the TAB, $4 at Betstar and again best odds at Betfair of $4.20.
The Saints are big odds to pull off a shock win, priced at $5.50 at Betstar, $5.75 at the TAB and $5.90 at Betfair.
|Reading to win v Stoke City at $4.60 at Betfair
||Tottenham and Newcastle to draw at $4.10 at Betfair|
The Southampton-City game is the late kick-off on Saturday, but in the early kick-off the hot favourites in Tottenham could also be vulnerable at home to Newcastle United.
Spurs, unbeaten in their past nine league games and sitting in fourth spot, are short-priced favourites against 15th placed Newcastle at $1.61 at Betstar, $1.65 at the TAB and $1.70 at Betfair.
Newcastle are $4.80 at the TAB, $5.40 with Betstar and paying $5.60 with Betfair.
With Spurs missing star striker Jermain Defoe due to an ankle injury and fellow striker Emmanuel Adebayor only just back from the Africa Cup of Nations, Newcastle are more than capable of getting a point out of this game, with a draw again great value at best odds of $4.10 at Betfair.
Elsewhere on Saturday, third-placed Chelsea should bounce back from last week's last gasp 3-2 loss at Newcastle when they host lowly Wigan, with the Blues priced at $1.30 at the TAB and $1.38 at Betfair while Wigan are at $8.50 and $10 respectively.
Arsenal are risky $1.83 favourites at the TAB and $1.93 at Betfair for their away trip to 12th-placed Sunderland [$4 at the TAB and $4.50 at Betfair], given they have won only once in their past five visits in all competitions to the Stadium of Light.
In-form Reading, who have pulled themselves out of the relegation zone with four wins from their past six matches, are great value at $4.60 at Betfair to win again, this time away to Stoke, who look poor value at $1.95 considering they are winless in their past six.
League Cup finalists Swansea should send bottom-placed QPR closer to the drop, and are $1.88 with Betfair to win at home.
* Note prices subject to change