With a much needed and morale boosting victory at Anfield last time out, Louis Van Gaal’s men would look to boost their flagging campaign with a double over the Saints. The unpredictability of this season’s Premier League does render United unlikely title challengers and the Red Devils would want to use their resurgent form of late to gather some momentum.
Currently, Manchester United supporters aren’t asking ‘Do we fire Van Gaal’? The true question for United observers at the moment would be wondering which United team do they get to see this weekend. Would it be the thrilling, counter-attacking, albeit defensively horrendous, Manchester United that drew 3-3 with Newcastle? Will it be the gritty, smash-and-grab approach as displayed at Anfield? Or will it be the mind-numbing, sleep-inducing, pass-until-your-grandchild-is-married philosophy on show? With an expectant Old Trafford crowd and with no defeats in the calendar year of 2016, the time has come for Manchester United to fully press their claims of a return in form.
Louis Van Gaal vs Ronald Koeman
Ah, a bitter personal rivalry that has cooled down (a bit) over the past few years. Once Manager and Assistant at Barcelona (Along with a certain Jose Mourinho), the two Dutchmen locked horns while at Ajax and Ronald Koeman came out top in the power struggle. The Director of Football, LVG was forced to leave due to their constant clashes over LVG’s micromanagement of Koeman’s Ajax team, not to mention the deadline day sale of a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Neither of these departures helped Koeman either, as he was sacked within 6 months of LVG’s dismissal.
Now with the third installment of their clashes in the Premier League, LVG holds the advantage, having defeated Koeman twice and losing out on the third. Interesting fact: neither of these managers have beat the other while playing at home — LVG’s two wins came at St. Mary’s while Koeman’s sole victory was a strike by Dusan Tadic at Old Trafford last January.
Is the resurgence real?
With four straight defeats in December, including losses to lowly Norwich and Bournemouth, it really was (is?) touch and go for Louis Van Gaal. The Dutch manager was hanging on to the ropes as a triumphant (could he be anything else) Jose Mourinho prepared to enter the ring. Even the press thought so, as it became vividly clear during Van Gaal’s bolt from a press conference. However, the squad rallied, Van Gaal presumably screamed some more, insulted more reporters and somehow, he clung on. Draws against Chelsea and Newcastle followed, along with scratchy wins over Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday.
And then came Anfield.
While it was obvious to all and sundry that Liverpool should have won that day, this was more reminiscent of Van Gaal’s first season at Old Trafford. Last year, they pilfered victories, snatched points and grabbed on to fourth place and didn’t let go. This year, while early talk was of a title run, the Red Devils would be content with seeing some improvement on last year’s standings, or at the very least, Champions League Football again.
At Anfield, they were outplayed, out-passed and often, out-thought. They had one shot on target, yet they walked away with three points. A sense of resilience and unity has been prevalent in the squad despite their recent awful form and, while talks of a title run are worthy of a hefty smirk, the squad looks better than it was a month ago.
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However, is the recent trend actually real? They haven’t faced any of the top five teams, the highest league position of any of the recent adversaries would be 9th (Liverpool) and their play has not once suggested that this team had finally set on an ideal plan and formation. Ander Herrera looked displaced, Maroune Fellaini (despite his assist) never looked more of a Manchester United player than Bebe, and the defence looks lethargic and error-prone. Mercifully for United, David De Gea looks rock solid at the back.
With a big personal and professional clash to look forward to this weekend, Louis Van Gaal would want his players to make a statement here. Play attractive football and win. Or at the least win. United fans take 3 points over their style of play, especially at this stage of the season. A series of victories does wonders for squad confidence and it remains to be seen if United’s under performing stars are 100% behind their manager.
With Ashley Young out injured, it seems probable that Cameron Borthwick-Jackson will take his place. The rest of the team to face Anfield should remain unchanged, yet Herrera’s position might be offered to the returning Adnan Januzaj. While possibly too soon to reintroduce the youngster from the start, he would be expected to make an appearance, especially if the demanding Old Trafford faithful expect entertainment.
If it works once, why won’t it work again?
Southampton have been no more consistent than Manchester United, and Ronald Koeman would like them to lay on a winning run here. A brilliant victory over Arsenal was punctured with two successive defeats and a home exit to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. Since then, they have recorded impressive victories over West Brom and Norwich and while no one expects them to achieve the heights of last season, the current campaign has had too many false dawns.
With a return to a stadium with fond memories, the Saints would be looking to crush United in front of the Stretfod End for the second year running. With the business end of a season approaching, a win means that a late push for a Europa League spot could be achievable.
Koeman would look to emulate the feats of last year, playing counter-attacking football to the hilt. Dusan Tadic finished off a rapid counter attack last January, condemning Manchester United and stealing three points. With Manchester United target Sadio Mane, they have a player perfectly suited to execute the game plan, and poke his potential future employers in the eye to take notice.
1. Wayne Rooney vs Virgil Van Dijk
Wayne Rooney has scored in four successive games, prompting some ludicrous United fans to proclaim he is ‘back’. However, that is highly optimistic as Rooney, for the better part of 90 minutes, looked pretty mediocre at Anfield. With a woeful first touch and a pace that induces thoughts of a marathon for senior citizens, Rooney is still light years away from being ‘back’ – whatever that is.
Van Dijk has looked solid and efficient at centre-back for the Saints and should come out of this match effectively shackling the United forward. His physical strength and technique is bound to frustrate Wayne who may have to get a penalty to get on the scoresheet again.
2. Marouane Fellaini vs Victor Wanyama
Not a battle to be taken lightly. These two would be more appropriate in a boxing ring or wrestling match, if you could find an audience who would want to see two ungainly, tall, gawky men spar and duel. The Southampton midfielder is big and imposing, a regular terrorising defensive midfielders with a powerful long range shot.
Marouane Fellaini, on the other hand, is tall, filled with 300 elbows and extremely good at picking up yellow cards and giving away fouls. Wanyama could get provoked or get consumed with envy at Fellaini’s afro. We also think he’ll win this contest.
Manchester United – Strengths and Weaknesses
– The United team had made goalscoring a treasured commodity in Manchester and would capitalise on the good recent form to attack the Saints goal. Wayne Rooney in particular.
– Regardless of their attack, David De Gea has been steady as a rock. The Spanish keeper is starting to add on to his lustrous reputation and was the difference at Anfield last week. He could be even more important this weekend.
– Marouane Fellaini (Enough said). Constantly outrun, out leapt and even tackled, the Belgian midfielder doens’t look like he will ever be accepted by the United Faithful
– Borthwick-Jackson would be exploited by Mane, and the Englishman’s young age could be the deciding factor. Would he act with maturity and contain Mane or go forward to leave behind an exploitable gap in the defence.
Southampton – Strengths and Weaknesses
– Victor Wanyama. The midfielder is young, strong and driven. While reminding some people of a younger Roy Keane, Wanyama is the man who’s control of the midfield would be pivotal to Koeman’s plan.
– Shane Long. With Charlie Austin’s transfer to the Saints, the Irish forward has laid down his marker for the team’s central goalscorer position without hesitation. The motivation may give him the ability to cause some real havoc tomorrow
– The entire defence. The Southampton back four have been pathetically inconsistent this season, yielding surprising defeats along the way.
– Ronald Koeman. While the Dutch manager looked like a refreshing boon to the Premier League last season, he has been unable to replicate his team’s form or their confidence.
Blast from the Past
Keep your aircraft as far away as possible from the corners and edges of the screen