Author: Herzog’s Child
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Manchester United travel to Southampton in the late Sunday game, hoping to pick up their first away points of the season. Southampton meanwhile are yet to win any points at all and in front of their home fans they’ll be pumped and ready for an upset. We preview the match and invite predictions and comments from both sets of fans.
Doing battle in the league for the first time in 7 years, Sunday’s fixture between Manchester United and Southampton sees a return of a fixture that presented many memorable occasions in times gone by. The league memories, ones filled with equal measures of horror and delight, roll easily from the tongue. The sight of United’s grey shirts and 6-3 capitulation at the now knocked Dell still provokes grimaces. The 3-3 thriller at Old Trafford in September of 1999, a point that was generously gifted to them by the calamitous Massimo Taibi, will also live long in the mind for all the wrong reasons. But joy resides in past fixtures between the clubs, too. In April 2000, United became early champions at the Dell, winning 0-3 and impressively securing the league title with 4 games to spare. Ironically, the last league fixture between the two ended in relegation for The Saints, as goals from Darren Fletcher and Ruud van Nistelrooy confined their opponents to their first drop in 27 years. A couple of cup wins since have ensured United have emerged as reigning victors, but Sunday’s tie – despite Southampton’s recent promotion – won’t be easy. In Rickie Lambert they have a considerable goal-getter, a threat from all angles – as evidenced on the opening weekend with his expertly placed leveller at Eastlands. Adam Lallana, their most prolific passer and one with a keen eye for goal, will also need to be quelled if United are to handle their opponents well. Southampton travel the pitch well, having clocked in the third furthest distance run by a Premier League team so far. Tight pressers, they rely – like Swansea who so impressed last year – on confidence on the ball, playing it to feet and taking it to their opponents. United will hope their positivity in possession can be exploited when the time suits.
Having secured 3 points out of a possible six thus far, United will be hoping that recent defensive frailties will be erased by Sunday afternoon. Southampton have yet to attain a point, having lost to Manchester City and Wigan, and will be looking to right some of the wrongs that have pockmarked their early performances. Having endeavoured resolutely against City, narrowly losing out after coming back from 1 down to lead 1-2, it is clear they have enough in their armoury to ensure United treat the encounter with caution. United, on the other hand, will be looking to rid themselves of the flaws that have seen them concede thrice in two games and shore up a defence that injuries have rocked. Having come through a 90 minute reserve outing unscathed on Thursday evening, Jonny Evans’s probable return to the defence’s heart will have all reds breathing that bit easier pre-match. His inclusion will also free the way for Michael Carrick to slot back into his midfield berth, bringing with him an assuredness and protection that has been absent in the middle in the opening two matches. Having lost to Everton, United will be looking to retain the terrific away form of last season with a victory on Sunday. With an expectant home-crowd desiring an upset, it could be prove to be a tense and intriguing afternoon.
Having not met in the league for 7 years, the last tie between both sides took place in the F.A. Cup in January of 2011. With Anders Lindegaard making his debut in goal, and a number of United’s first-team not taking part, Southampton’s chances of a giant-slaying weren’t as minimal as they had feared following the cup-draw. Buoyed by the proposition of facing an under-strength United eleven, what appeared as fantasy soon became a gettable reality as Richard Chaplow thundered in a strike shortly before the first half came to a close. On the wing, the diminutive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain swaggered with ease, as United’s second-string found life difficult against their lowly opposition. Having not returned a punch before the hour mark, the threat of Giggs and Nani were added to the equation. United – through Michael Owen’s instinctive prodded header – were soon level. They took the lead ten minutes later. Having found himself on the end of a cleverly fed through ball from Giggs, Javier Hernandez somehow found the net from a falling position. It typified the Mexican at his instinctive best, where little impeded his trademark knack for directing the ball net-bound from all sorts of angles. It proved to be vital.
Key Man – Michael Carrick:
Having lamentably failed to acquire a central midfielder during the summer transfer window, last season’s quiet hero may yet again be burdened with the task of gluing United’s play together. As a result of an injury list that wouldn’t look out of place in a war-zone, United’s defensive issues forced Carrick from midfielder into a makeshift centre half for the opening two games. Little can be expected from one whose game isn’t about aggression, and Carrick – while decent in completing the basics – understandably struggled with the position’s greater tasks. Now on his way back to where he belongs, Carrick’s function – to thread defensive play with attacking impetus – will ensure the fragility apparent in United’s middle will be considerably lessened. If United set up with him alongside Cleverely, we could see the beginnings of a duo that should now be first choice. Carrick can hold and spread and dictate from a deeper position, while the zippy Cleverely has in his locker a simple, quick-paced style that should aid United’s attack and help keep the ball when under pressure. If Evans returns to the defence, Carrick can supply the order United so desperately crave in order to get their own game going. His presence on Sunday will be vital if United are to attain all 3 points, as will be the case in the many months to come.
With a defensive unit consisting of four defenders for once, United will hope they can iron out the flaws that saw them exposed so readily against Everton and Fulham. The sight of Evans and Vidic at centre half will be reassuring, but consideration must centre on the fact that neither has played much football in recent times. Support from Carrick and the two full backs will be vital. Kagawa, so impressive in his first two outings, will again be the fulcrum of United’s attacking plans. Light of foot, with a wonderfully delicate ingenuity, the Japanese maestro will once more be looked on as chief orchestrator. With van Persie spearheading, and speed-junkies Nani and Valencia bombing on the wings, United have more than enough ammo to down Southampton. If the defence can hold tight and withstand the inevitable odd bombardment, there should be enough ahead of them to snare all 3 points. The midfield battle will once again be pivotal. It is the perfect occasion for Messrs Carrick and Cleverely to show what as a duo they’re capable of.