Manchester United travel to the South Coast this Saturday for a 3.00 pm kick-off at Southampton, on the back of an expected comfortable 4-1 victory over Burton Albion in the League Cup competition in mid-week. Just as there were numerous changes in personnel in Jose Mourinho’s team for that game against Championship opposition, I have no doubt that there will be more for this game, which is usually a hard-fought battle against a club who produce some good footballing sides.
Southampton have had somewhat mixed fortunes so far this season, perhaps to be expected with new manager Mauricio Pellegrino still getting to know his squad; their biggest problem seems to be scoring goals, with no less than four of their six games this season ending with the Saints goal-less. After a disappointing display at home to Watford a fortnight ago, which ended in a 0-2 defeat, they edged bottom club Crystal Palace 1-0 with a Steve Davis goal last Saturday, and currently sit in 9th position with 8 points from 5 games.
United come into the game unbeaten for the new season, having eventually disposed of Everton, 4-0, last Sunday, and with top marksman Romelu Lukaku in blistering hot form. However the Red Devils have looked decidedly less assured in both away games to date, at Swansea City (where they could easily have fallen behind before eventually winning 4-0) and Stoke City, and this is sure to be a real test of their title credentials.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (a fluid 4-2-3-1)
GK: David de Gea – David is an ‘automatic’ pick, and rightly so. All the plaudits have already been showered upon him, and I expect him to be very difficult for the Southampton attacking players to find a way past, as former colleague Wayne Rooney found out last weekend.
RB: Antonio Valencia – Tony scored a contender for ‘Goal of the Season’ to open the scoring early against Everton last Sunday, and combined with his powerful ‘no nonsense’ display at full-back, makes him another who pretty much ‘picks himself’!
LB: Daley Blind – the sight of Luke Shaw finally making an appearance from the bench at half-time against Burton Albion was one to warm the hearts of all United fans, though he clearly struggled at times with getting into the match tempo, and it only served to highlight the work Luke still needs to put in to get himself fully fit for Premier League duty. In his absence, Blind is a trustworthy deputy who reads the game well, rarely concedes possession and can link up well with Martial or Rashford on the left side.
CBs: Eric Bailly & Phil Jones – after poor games at Stoke City for both these lads, they put in much better performances against the Toffees, and sat out the mid-week win over Burton. Ergo, both should be fit and fresh to try to ensure that Southampton again finish a game with no goals scored, though they will certainly have their hands full looking after Shane Long, Marco Gabbiadini and Charlie Austin, whichever combination Pellegrino selects for the Saints….
DMs: Nemanja Matic & Marouane Fellaini – by now, Nemanja Matic pretty much is an automatic selection in the starting XI. For me, this lad has been the ‘signing of the season’ to date, and in hindsight a bad error in judgement from Chelsea to strengthen a title rival! Again, he will sit in front of the centre-halves and add another layer of protection, and with the likes of Dusan Tadic and Mario Lemina around, he too could have a busy afternoon. Alongside him, Fellaini has quickly made himself hard to ignore, and particularly with what I suspect will be a tough away assignment, the Belgian’s ability to be combative in midfield and also pose a threat to the Saints from set-pieces sees him get the nod over Ander Herrera in there.
RM: Juan Mata – the little man played against Burton Albion on Wednesday, showing he was on a level several above the visiting players, and his creativity and industry will be vital if the Reds are to maximise opportunities to hit Southampton hard on the counter-attack. I do worry about him getting caught for pace against the speedy Ryan Bertrand, but he and Valencia have a good understanding on the right side so perhaps I’m being overly paranoid!
AM(C): Henrikh Mkhitaryan – despite grabbing a nice goal and providing plenty of support for his team-mates against Everton, I was a little disappointed with Henrikh’s overall performance last Sunday; at times he appears to want to do ‘too much’ on the ball, and got crowded out by blue shirts on a few occasions when a quick pass to a team-mate might have yielded better results. That said, his trickery on the ball will give Romeu plenty of headaches, and could lead to a few free-kicks around the Southampton area…
LM: Marcus Rashford – the young man capped a fine display with two very well-taken goals against Burton Albion, and on current form, he is a nightmare for opposition defenders to play against. I’d expect him to give Cedric Soares, Maya Yoshida and Wesley Hoedt plenty of problems, and should that not happen, Anthony Martial is also on blistering form and can operate in the same areas. What a dilemma to have, Martial or Rashford…?!!
CF: Romelu Lukaku – the man whose anatomy seems to be getting as much attention right now as his superb goalscoring form is! Romelu has settled to life in Manchester like a duck to water, and you simply wouldn’t swap him for any other striker in England right now. Guaranteed to make life uncomfortable for the Southampton defence.
BENCH: Romero, Herrera, Martial, Lingard, Young, Carrick, Shaw.
This is always a hard fixture, and the Saints will be a difficult team to break down. I don’t particularly rate their centre-backs (Yoshida is suspect both in the air and especially on the ground), but they will have Oriel Romeu and Lemina sitting in front to protect them, and with the vastly under-rated Northern Ireland captain Steve Davis floating in the middle, United will need to be at their best to secure the desired three points. However we come into the game in great form; Southampton will fear us more than we fear them, and I expect a hard-fought victory for the visitors.