Old Trafford, Manchester
October 19, 2013; 15:00 GMT
Manchester United host Southampton on Saturday afternoon in a clash between a team in the top four and another positioned in the middle of the table. Sounds just about normal, right? Well not quite. It is one of those rarest of rare occasions when after 7 games into the season, Southampton are perched five, that’s right – five, places above Manchester United in the table. While the hosts go into the game looking to pick up their first back to back wins this season, the visitors can go top of the table with a win provided results elsewhere go in their favour. We are witnessing strange times indeed.
United manager David Moyes will be hoping to re-establish a familiar look to the table soon – at least in terms of his own team’s position – and a win on Saturday should do nicely in that regard. In the last game before the international break, United were hardly convincing in a 2-1 win at the bottom club Sunderland but the manager would have been pleased that his team was able to grind out a result despite playing at a level well below their best – a hallmark of the side under Sir Alex Ferguson.
For the south coast club, this has been a fairy-tale start to the season as three wins in their last three games have left them sitting pretty at 4th in the table. The secret to the flying start has been their mean defence that has been breached only twice till now, which is half the number conceded by the next best defence in the league. The most eye-catching result has surely been there 1-0 triumph at Anfield which remains Liverpool’s only defeat of the campaign.
Team News, Tactics & Lineups
Moyes will be buoyed by the fact that none of the multitude of his players representing their respective national teams have picked up any serious knocks. On the contrary, he would have been encouraged to see both Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie among the goals for their countries. The manager would be hoping the talismanic duo have not forgotten to bring back their scoring boots from international duty as they hold the key to unlocking the Saints’ watertight defence.
In the wings, Moyes will be tempted to hand Adnan Januzaj his full Old Trafford debut after his heroics at the Stadium of Light a fortnight back when the 18 year old turned the game on its head with two fine strikes. As expected the 18 year old has been suddenly been thrust under the media spotlight as considerable column inches have been devoted to various stories ranging from his contract talks with the club, interest of other big clubs in Europe and his choice of international team to represent. With all such shenanigans in the background, Moyes, a master at bringing through young prodigies, may decide to leave him out for his own good.
Michael Carrick had a decent outing for England in their crucial qualifier in the midweek and is expected to retain his place at the centre of the park. The summer signing Marouanne Fellaini battled through the qualifiers wearing a cast on his injured wrist but may now opt for surgery that could rule him out for upto a month. Tom Cleverley, too, is a doubt after a calf injury forced his withdrawal from the England squad.
In defence, both Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans had missed out on United’s last two games before the international break due to injury. The latter though did appear for Northern Ireland and should be in line for a start. Whosoever Moyes starts in the defence, collectively they must perform better than what has been on show for the first seven league games where United have conceded nine goals.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Januzaj; Rooney, van Persie
Mauricio Pochettino’s team have been an absolute revelation this season and will travel to Old Trafford with genuine conviction that they can get something from this game. The club’s big expenditure in the summer in securing the services of Victor Wanyama, Dejan Lovren and Pablo Osvaldo seems to be reaping instant dividends. Especially Wanyama and Lovren have been influential in shoring up the fifth worst defence last season. Lovren has even managed to influence things at the other end of the pitch as it was the Croatian centre-half’s strike that secured the win at Anfield.
While the Argentinian manager has seemingly got his side well organized, credit is due to the Saints board as well for bringing in Pochettino in place of the popular Nigel Adkins. The move, which was lambasted by fans at the time, is looking increasingly shrewd with each passing day.
On the injury front, Pochettino will be hoping to have Arthur Boruc fit after the keeper was ruled out of Poland’s trip to Wembley. The Polish international is a terrific shot-stopper and will be needed to be at his best to keep out the star-studded opposition frontline. This game is another chance for 18 year old left back Luke Shaw to demonstrate his unquestionable talent against one of the top teams in the league and impress the opposition manager. With moves for other more established left-backs floundering in the previous transfer window, Moyes may well be keeping a close eye on Shaw for now.
Up front, Rickie Lambert is expected to lead the line with Osvaldo, provided he recovers from an ankle knock picked up while on duty with Italy, in a supporting role. Jay Rodriguez, who had an excellent debut season last year, has found himself dislodged from the first eleven ever since the arrival of the Italian international in the summer. However, the man who was being tipped for an England call up not too long ago, did bag a goal as a substitute in the last game against Swansea and will be pushing for a starting spot.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Wanyama, Schneirderlin; Lallana, Osvaldo, Davis; Lambert
- If Manchester United lose, it will be the first time since May 2002 that they would have lost successive home games in the Premier League.
- 24 different players have started in the league this season for United, a record high among all the teams.
- Southampton have lost their last 8 games against Manchester United in all competition.
- Only once in the Premier League era have the Saints been able to avoid defeat at Old Trafford (a 3-3 draw in 1999) and their last away win against United was back in 1988.
Player To Watch
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
The man who opened the scoring in both qualifiers for England seems to be very much in the middle of his famous purple patches. Moyes may be facing a lot of criticism but one thing for which he should definitely be commended is reigniting the spark in Rooney that was missing for large parts of last season. The striker too seems to have left his summer discontentment behind and is enjoying the reunion with the manager who gave him his break. The Saints defence have repelled almost all this season, but Rooney on a red-hot streak may be too much for them.
Manchester United 2-0 Southampton
Southampton are bound to make life difficult for the hosts, but United with their wide array of attacking talents should be able to breakthrough eventually.
Blast From The Past
Manchester United 3-3 Southampton (1999-00)