Transfer deadline-day wheeling and dealing has distracted attention from this weekend’s Premier League action, and as such, much of the prospective action has gone unmentioned. As a result, a momentous Manchester United milestone has drifted somewhat under the radar, as the Red Devils travel to St. Mary’s for Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1000 league match in charge of the club. With this in mind and with Southampton yet to register a point on their return to the Premiership, Ferguson’s men will be hoping to breeze to an easy three points. If only it were that easy.
After a seven year absence, Southampton have finally regained their top flight status after a roller coaster journey which saw them plumb the depths of league one, before rocketing back to the Premier League. Back to back promotions are no mean feat, and as we saw with Norwich last year, they will be a tough nut to crack. However, after their near heroics on the opening day of the season at The Etihad, Southampton slumped to a disappointing 2-0 loss at home against Wigan. Whilst this may give some cause for optimism for the United faithful, they will themselves be worried at 3 losses in the last 4 away games.
The South Coast club’s style is reminiscent of last season’s surprise package Swansea, with high tempo pressure over the pitch and slick, neat passing play. Set up with two sitting centre midfielders, Schneiderlin and Davis, Adam Lallana is given the task of linking play between attack and defence. This will be a key battle ground, with Southampton likely to play on the counter attack, as they did to such great effect against City.
The return of Michael Carrick in midfield for United could be a much needed and welcome inclusion. Ricky Lambert up-front will be supported by two wingers, likely Puncheon and Jay Rodriguez, the former Burnley striker, who could exploit the gaps behind Rafael and Evra, if the two fullbacks get over-eager.
United, in the past seasons, have often relied on scintillating wing play to yield the necessary goals. However, with the addition of attacking midfielder Kagawa, and the slick movement of the Dutch marksman Robin van Persie, they have shown a greater propensity for mixing it up. This variety of play produced some marvellous passages of play against Fulham, and will make it much harder for the opposition to draw up a counter-plan. Along with the likely return of either Jonny Evans or Rio Ferdinand, United could be fielding something close to their strongest possible XI, and this is certainly bad news for the crowd at St. Mary’s.
Whilst Southampton will often threaten to get themselves on the score sheet, having scored 49 goals on home-soil the previous season, their defensive liabilities will be shown up by Kagawa, RVP and co. Coupled with a starting XI that could actually see four defenders start for the Red Devils (surely not!) I predict an entertaining match up, easily won by Manchester United, 3 goals to one.