Old Trafford, Manchester
January 30, 20:00 GMT
Old Trafford prepares for the visit of Southampton as Man United look to hold off neighbors Manchester City for the league crown. Southampton football club is in the middle of a real shake up, one which could and should have been avoided at this juncture of the season. Both sides have plenty to play for; United would be looking to strengthen their hold on pole while the Saints would be absolutely delighted if they eke out a point at the Theatre of Dreams.
Man United dropped two valuable points at the death against Tottenham at the Lane and enabled City to close the gap to just five points. United’s second half display against the Spurs was lackluster as the Red Devils allowed the Lily Whites to mount pressure on the United rearguard. Nevertheless, United’s league form has been exceptional and a point at White Hart Lane is a decent return. At the weekend, a much changed United side put on a fine display against Martin Jol’s Fulham, ergo confidence shouldn’t be much of a concern for Fergie’s men, especially at Old Trafford.
Southampton unceremoniously sacked Nigel Adkins after a great run of results had seen them climb up the table and out of the dreaded relegation zone. Saints faithful have not taken the sacking too well but haven’t yet gotten on the back of the new manager Mauricio Pochettino. Former Espanyol boss got a well deserved point against the Toffee’s in his first game in charge but United at Old Trafford represents a daunting task. The famous club from Hampshire has big ambitions for the future, however Chairman Nicola Cortese must know staying up has to be the real priority for the ongoing league season.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Sir Alex do not have too many injury problems going into this game which is good news for the manager considering the grueling month of February coming up for United. Jonny Evans and Ashley Young are nearing full fitness as the manager has claimed that both will be available for the Champions League match against Real Madrid. This leaves only Darren Fletcher as a long term absentee with the Scot being ruled out of action for the whole season.
The manager will probably use this game to rest a few of his star players while bringing others back who sat out the FA Cup game against Fulham over the weekend. Robin van Persie is likely to be restored to the starting line-up as is Tom Cleverley. However, Fergie might opt to rest Ferdinand for this one with a much tougher match against Fulham at the Craven Cottage coming up on Saturday. Hence, Smalling should partner Vidic in central defence with Evra and Rafael playing as full-backs, who will be doing a lot of charging up the pitch to support the wingers.
Nani’s return against Fulham was a mixed bad at best but the manager will be eager to give him games to help him return to form as soon as possible especially with Young injured and Valencia having a nightmare of a season. The Portuguese is likely to start this one again with Danny Welbeck taking the other wing. Carrick and Cleverley will be the two central midfielders pulling the strings for the home side while Rooney will be playing behind van Persie.
It is expected to be a very flexible formation for Manchester United with Rooney, RvP and Welbeck interchanging places at will. Although the Dutchman is expected to be the furthest forward on most occasions, Rooney and Welbeck will be switching places more regularly making it difficult for the Saints. Cleverley will also be looking to make late runs in the box and looking to get himself with little give-and-gos with the likes of Rooney, Welbeck and Nani while Michael Carrick will act as the engine room for the team from his deep-lying midfield role.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Cleverley, Welbeck; Rooney; van Persie
Mauricio Pochettino will be pleased that he is having the luxury of an almost injury free squad at the start of his reign. Jose Fonte is the only player from his squad that is unavailable for the game in midweek while the new manager will be thrilled with the return of star midfielder Adam Lallana who is available for selection after being out for more than a month.
Jos Hooiveld has done a pretty decent job for the Saints in the absence of Fonte as his central strike partnership with Yoshida looks reasonably formidable. Both will take the pitch at Old Trafford again on Wednesday while Nathaniel Clyne and highly talented Luke Shaw will be taking up the full-backs responsibilities. Although, both the wide defenders are known for their attacking play, it won’t be a surprise if the manager instructs them to concentrate on their defensive duties especially in the early stages of the game.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork will be anchoring the midfield for the visitors while the exciting trio of Lallana, Ramirez and Puncheon will be the main attacking threats for Southampton. Rickie Lambert will be leading the line and will be expected to trouble the United defence as he did in the reverse fixture at St. Mary’s during the early stages of the season.
Although Southampton were not afraid from going at their opponents away from home under Adkins, it will be interesting to see the approach of Pochettino in his first away game and that too at Old Trafford. All are expecting him to set his team up in order to get a point with the full-backs not going too far forward and Schneiderlin and Cork also holding their positions making their team difficult to be broken down. Also, with the quality in their front four, the Saints are capable of scoring against any opposition as they proved at the Bridge a couple of games ago. Hence, the manager will be hoping to go as far into the game on level terms or at best just one goal behind in order to test United’s defensive resolve in the latter stages of the game.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Clyne, Yoshida, Hoosiveld, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Cork; Puncheon, Ramirez, Lallana; Lambert
- Manchester United’s tally of 56 points after 23 games is their best ever return in any Premier League season.
- van Persie is the first player in the Premier League to score 10 or more away goals in three successive seasons.
- Southampton have lost their last five league encounters at Old Trafford following the remarkable 3-3 draw in 1999.
Player To Watch Out For
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
RvP’s exploits have meant that United have not missed Rooney’s absence too much this season. However, every one associated with United knows the importance of Rooney to this team. With big games coming up, Sir Alex will be keen to see his talisman firing on all cylinders and hence will be relishing the opportunity to unleash his force on Southampton. Rooney, too, will be desperate to hold on to his status of being the team’s biggest superstar and therefore will be keen to show his magic on Wednesday.
Manchester United 3-1 Southampton
It is expected to be an easy game for the home side as the Red Devils will look to get back to winning ways after their draw at White Hart Lane. The visitors will trouble the United defence through their pace and height of Lambert in the box but it will not be enough to get anything out of the game.