Old Trafford, England
11th January, 2015; 16:00 GMT
Manchester United face a stern test as Southampton visit Old Trafford looking for 3 vital points. Currently in the third spot in the Premier League, Van Gaal’s United are only one point ahead of arch rival Ronald Koeman who is turning out to be a genuine challenger for a Champions League spot this season. With Chelsea and Manchester City running away with the title race, Van Gaal will hope for 3 crucial points on Sunday to keep his title hopes alive.
Having been unbeaten in their last ten games, Manchester United need to win against Southampton in order to make a strong case for Champions League next year. Just 9 points behind Chelsea who currently lead the race for the title, Van Gaal and his men have an outside chance of winning the Premier League crown but cannot afford to drop any points in order to do so. Having struggled through an injury crisis in the first half of the season, Van Gaal now has his players returning to match-fitness in a welcome boost ahead of the game on Sunday.
Van Gaal has revealed that except for Ashley Young, all his other injured players have recovered successfully and are slowly getting match-fit. Luke Shaw, Rojo and Blind have returned to training but it is doubtful that either of them will get the nod to start the game against Koeman’s Southampton. Smalling, Jones and Evans are expected to start at the heart of defence with Valencia and Paddy Mcnair starting as full-backs.
With Fellaini, Janujaz and Di Maria returning to match-fitness, it will be interesting to see how Manchester United shape up in the midfield. Rooney is expected to start along with Michael Carrick. In all probability, Di Maria will partner the duo with Mata facing the axe. Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao are expected to lead the team’s attack. However, Van Gaal might decide to partner Di Maria alongside Robin Van Persie or Falcao in order to make space for Juan Mata who has been on a decent run lately.
Expected Starting Line-Up: De Gea (GK); Smalling, Evans, Jones, Valencia, Mcnair; Carrick, Di Maria, Rooney; Van Persie, Falcao
Ronald Koeman lost 4 crucial games in a row starting with Manchester City in November but has managed to stage a remarkable come-back to hang on to their Champions League spot in the Premier League. A point adrift of Manchester United, Southampton have a good chance of going ahead of Van Gaal if they put up a solid performance at Old Trafford.
Southampton will be expected to organise themselves in the defence and will look to catch Manchester United on the break. United’s defensive record has not been the best this season and Van Gaal’s make-shift defence has been far from stable. To put things in perspective, despite all their attacking fire-power, United have scored 34 goals this season, the same as Southampton this season. However the Saints have conceded only 15 goals as compared to United’s 20.
With Rodriguez, Mane and Cork injured, and Mayuka unavailable for the tie, it will be interesting to see how Southampton shape up against Manchester United. Toby Alderweireld and Jose Fonte are expected to start at the heart of the defence accompanied with Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne. Schneiderlin and Wanyama will start in the midfield with Tadic and Davis starting on the wings. Pelle provides Southampton’s main attacking threat and he will be partnered by Shane Long.
Expected Starting Line-Up: Forster (GK); Toby Alderweireld, Jose Fonte, Ryan Bertrand, Nathaniel Clyne; Schneiderlin, Wanyama, Tadic, Davis; Pelle, Long
Player To Watch Out For
Amidst their star-studded line-up , all eyes will be on Radamel Falcao and Di Maria as the duo return from their injuries and will be expected to play an important role in United’s campaign in the second half of the season. Falcao has started a few games but has clearly not been playing upto his potential. And with just months left on his loan contract, the Colombian will be looking to make a strong case for a permanent deal at Manchester United. Robin Van Persie will also have an important role to play on Sunday. The Dutchman led a mediocre United against Southampton earlier this season and scored two important goals to win the match for Van Gaal.
Manchester United 2-1 Southampton
Blast From The Past