Southampton have already beaten Liverpool on their travels so far this season
Two decades ago it was safe to say that you’d fancy yourself against Southampton. The Saints of course had the wizard, that is Matthew Le Tissier, who will no doubt remember fondly his sublime chip against Peter Schmeichel at the Dell some seventeen years ago, and of course the laughable pea-poller that had Massimo Taibi checking out the main culprits in the scene, his studs.
That Southampton side also had hard man Ken Monkou, who randomly went on to run a pancake house back home in his native Holland, and of course the face no one could forget, Iain Dowie, leading the line.
United beat Southampton 3-1 at the Dell that season (93/94), with an extremely camp ‘wriggle and jump’ celebration from blue sock wearing Eric Cantona, and a 2-0 win at Old Trafford, with goals from Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis. United went on to win the double, whilst the Saints narrowly avoided relegation. Fast forward twenty years and things are a little different.
You may now be shouting at your computer, tablet or mobile “But Southampton haven’t registered a win at Old Trafford since the 1987/88 season” before tying up your Red Devil anorak and blowing your glasses. Yes, you would be correct, but they’ve proved a tough old cookie to beat since the Argentine took over back in January. So far Mauricio Pochettino’s men occupy the heights of fourth spot, with David Moyes and United starring up at them.
When Nigel Adkins’ was sacked at the start of the year, there was uproar – especially considering he was on the back of winning run and had drawn 2-2 at Chelsea against an under fire Rafa Benitez. It was a harsh decision to dismiss a man who had helped Southampton reach the pinnacle of English football, considering that the Saints were relegated to the third tier of English football only a mere three years previous, for the first time since 2005. Harsh, but what is at the moment looking like the right decision.
United on the other hand are in need of a big win following three defeats in only seven games so far this season. United were unlucky against Liverpool, embarrassingly poor against City and not good enough against WBA. Even if it were the legendary Rinus Michels taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson, the transition was never going to be easy.
Moyes’ failure to land many of United’s transfer targets and the capitulation against City when he opted for pedestrian midfield duo of Fellaini and Carrick of course have many of the doubters in full voice, but the United manager needs time to prove he can compete at the top level. However, a defeat against Southampton will heap more pressure on the Scot, who will be nearer the relegation zone than at the top of the table.
Pochettino on the other hand looks to have settled in England, despite the world’s worst white handkerchiefs protest upon his arrival. Younster Luke Shaw, who wasn’t even born (bet that makes you feel old) when United had to change from their invisible grey strip to the much more visible blue and white third away kit, has been thrust into first team action at the ripe old age of 18 following a successful debut 2012/13.
The youngster has been linked with moves away from St Mary’s, with Chelsea reportedly looking to replace the aging Ashley Cole. Its not just Shaw though who has impressed over the past year, captain Adam Lallana notched up a goal at home to Swansea, whilst Nathaniel Clyne has been tipped as a future England International. Also, they’ve shown their muscle in the transfer market, signing Pablo Osvaldo from Roma when it looked a done deal that he would join Tottenham Hotspur.
Manchester United versus Southampton produced one of the most memorable games last season, with the Saints going ahead twice before Robin van Persie scored a memorable hattrick and took a penalty that would have wound you up had your mate Trev tried it at Powerleague on a Monday night. One of the key difference between Pochettino and Adkins is that although they don’t score many goals nowadays, they’re pretty stingy at the back.
Last season, after seven games, the Saints conceded 23 goals in their opening seven fixtures. To be fair, they did play City, Arsenal – who thumped them 6-1 – and United, but have only conceded two goals this campaign with four previous clean sheets. A lot of credit must go to Boruc, who was sensational against Swansea two weeks ago. Pochettino faced United in his first ever clash at Southampton manager, which he was unlucky to lose. The way his side is playing at the moment, he’ll hope to go one better.