Manchester United won 3-2 at Southampton earlier in the season.
Follow Doron on Twitter
United host Southampton fresh in the knowledge that there’s an opportunity to once again open up a seven point lead after City surprisingly dropped points at QPR on Tuesday night. Form is in United’s favour – they’ve not dropped any points at home since the Spurs game back at the end of September. Southampton are under new management of course after the shock sacking of Nigel Adkins but they haven’t lost a league game for over a month now and 8 points from their last six games isn’t the worst return. The meeting between the sides earlier this season was memorable for various reasons, not least because it truly announced van Persie as a United player. As ever we welcome comments and contributions from both sets of fans.
View from the opposition
Firstly, Nigel Adkins sacking – what was that about?
For the majority of Saints fans the decision came as little surprise but the timing was disappointing to say the least and the manner in which Adkins was dismissed was pretty sickening considering what he had done for the club. Nicola Cortese had long been looking for a new manager with the name and network to match his ambitions of building the club as a brand and it was pretty clear in an interview with Dan Walker (I think…) moments after we gained promotion to the Premier League that the writing was on the wall for Adkins despite back-to-back promotions. At the very least, Adkins will leave the club with a superb record and his positivity and belief is something that has seemingly rubbed off on our current crop of players and, in some ways more importantly, the fans. It’s been a toxic atmosphere round St. Mary’s at times over the last five or six years and Adkins’ outlook on life has helped a rallying of the fans and players in ultimately backing the new man and realising that the club is bigger than any individual.
What do you make of your new manager?
It’s very hard to say, really. I was aware of the youth of his Espanyol side, but didn’t see them play too much so was unsure as to his style before he was confirmed as our gaffer and Guillem Balague was tweeting about Pochettino’s credentials. Our first outing under him wasn’t his side, it was Adkins’, but in the first half we did look to press Everton a lot more and our tempo was exceptional. If this is a sign of things to come then, combined with our ability as a team on the ball and hard-working nature, we can seriously look forward to the prospect of staying up this season.
Will you stay up this season?
I think we can and I think we will. It’s getting tight down there and this month is a big one with sides in the bottom six seemingly playing each other nearly every weekend over the next four weeks or so. In the middle of that we’ve drawn at Chelsea and held Everton at home so with a win over two out of Wigan, Newcastle and QPR (at the beginning of March) and if we can take a point from either Manchester club then we should be in a great position heading towards the end of the season. Saying that, you take nothing or very little from those games and things look desperate.
Who has been your best player this season?
That’s a hard one, our group of players have really stepped up and thrived in the Premiership so far with barely any experience of top-flight football behind them. Lallana, before he was injured, and Lambert predictably stepped up and have proved their worth as Premier League footballers while Jose Fonte has looked good, as has Nathaniel Clyne, Jack Cork, Morgan Schneiderlin and even Guly Do Prado. As for our best player, our form has significantly improved since Luke Shaw has come into the side and he’s an undoubted talent but, for me, Jason Puncheon has been superb and looked a threat every time he’s got on the ball. Considering he was exiled by the club for nearly three years, he’s been a revelation.
And biggest disappointment?
I think a lot of fans might be tempted to say Gaston Ramirez considering his fee but in recent weeks he’s looked the player that we all hoped he would be. I’m going to have to say any one of our goalkeepers (despite my love for Kelvin Davis) who have provided some awkward hilarity at times this season. That said, Artur Boruc was good last time out against Everton and it would be great if he can turn things around. I’m still holding out for the rumoured Jack Butland deal to come to fruition but can’t help but think that was an Adkins wish.
Luke Shaw has impressed this season, will he still be at Southampton next season?
I see no reason why not, he’s pledged his future to the club and has all but signed a new long-term deal which is encouraging for us. A lot will obviously depend on whether we’re still in the Prem next year but I’d say that it would take silly money for us to let Shaw go as, unlike when the likes of Bale and Walcott left, we don’t need the money.
How would you line up against United?
For us, I honestly believe we have one way of playing and that is to press high up, don’t give the likes of Carrick time on the ball and get the ball to our front men as quickly as possible and isolate the United full-backs. We’ll be much the same and start with Lambert up front, Ramirez behind and Puncheon and Guly on the wings I’d imagine while Cork and Schneiderlin to their best to close and harass the United midfield. Neutralising the likes of Rooney and Van Persie, however, will be an almost impossible task for our centre-backs with Hooiveld out of his depth, Yoshida improving but still adapting and Forren yet to play.
Robin van Persie’s hattrick against Southampton was incredible. What have you made of how easily he has settled in at Old Trafford and what do you remember of that header?
He took his goals incredibly well and although he didn’t have his best all-round games he did what world-class strikers do and took the chances that ended up winning his side the game. He’s utter class and only an idiot would have thought he wouldn’t be able to transfer his form last season into this. As for ‘that’ header, I remember watching it with my girlfriend, mum and dad and initially crumbling a bit inside before the desperate air of inevitability flooded my body.
If you could take one United player, who would it be?
None of them, they wouldn’t get in our side!! :p
Other than Matthew Le Tissier, who is the greatest Southampton player?
Well for me it would have to be Le Tiss, he’s simply the best player of my generation. Ruling him out, however, Rickie Lambert will go down as one of our greatest players for the sheer number of goals he’s scored and how he’s taken us to the Premier League (as the song goes). I’m sure you remember Bobby Stokes while Terry Paine, Ted Bates and Micky Channon are all legends albeit before my time while Jason Dodd and Franny Benali will always be remembered fondly.
Lastly, tell us something interesting about the club?
We took football to Brazil.
One assumes that Evans and Young remain sidelined since there has been no fresh midweek update from the club. Evans trained in Qatar last week but with Smalling, Jones, Vidic and Ferdinand all fit, he won’t be rushed back before he’s ready. Fletcher of course is out for the remainder of the season.
Adam Lallana, Saints’ captain, returns to the side after a lengthly spell out injured. Whether he’s fit enough to start a game remains to be seen. Fonte and Guly are both definitely out and Mayuka is at the African Cup of Nations. Forren could make his debut at centre back after signing from Ole’s Molde – he had been linked with United in the past and on Ole’s advice, he turned down Liverpool to move to the south coast.
Potential Man United line up
The issue Fergie has this week is whether he plays his strongest side against Southampton or Fulham at the weekend. A mix and match option seems more likely but it’s working out where to slot in the likes of Scholes for a game that’ll matter.
One can only hope that David de Gea continues in goal and isn’t punished for his weak punch at Spurs in United’s last league outing. It may be that Fergie opts to give Rafael a rare rest with Jones coming in at full back. The addition of Jones may also prove to be useful at set pieces as he’s proven himself to be very strong in the air lately – United will have to be particularly wary of Lambert’s aerial threat. With a week to prepare for Everton after the Fulham game, Fergie may try and get two games in a few days out of Rio and Vidic who’ve both had 10 days off now.
What happens ahead of the defence is anyone’s guess. Carrick and Cleverley seem the obvious candidates to start after one was taken off early and one was rested in the FA Cup tie. That said, Scholes hasn’t started a game in over three weeks and in fact has only started three games in the last two months – it feels like he’s probably due one. Out wide, Valencia may be given another chance to try and find some form whilst it’s a case of whether Kagawa and Welbeck with both start or whether one will be dropped to accommodate a returning Rooney. It goes without saying that Robin will play his part.
Conclusion and prediction
It goes without saying that the chance to enlarge the gap over Man City will spur United on against Southampton. On reflection, a draw at Spurs isn’t the worst result and if you put that game to one side, there has been something a little more ruthless about United in recent weeks. The run of league games coming up is certainly favourable and managing the squad in and around the Madrid ties will be crucial but there’s a real chance to put some serious pressure on City now.
Southampton will start the game above the relegation zone and will know that regardless of how the game goes, they cannot drop into it. They may have approached this game hoping to minimise damage but a point after a spirited comeback at Chelsea shows them what they can do and shows United that they cannot be complacent. Should the game be tight in the second half, they may well back themselves to get something out of it.
Realistically, United should win this – van Persie’s in hot form and the likes of Kagawa and Welbeck are entering purple patches too. With the defence tightened up (two conceded in the last four league games) this should be a formality for United.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-0 Southampton