Southampton might be in with a glorious chance of entering the top four as they host a surprisingly lowly Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday.
Ralph Hasenhuttl seems to have truly completed the Southampton turnaround. From a team continuously grappling for survival to comfortably resting in the top half of the table, the Saints are now flying high at 5th on the Premier League table.
Even though there are still 29 matches left to be played, Southampton have earned half of the ceremonious 34-point tally seen historically as the safety point. On a seven-game unbeaten run in the league, Hasenhuttl will be looking to maintain or even improve their position on the league table, depending on how teams above them fare, as they face a wobbly Manchester United side.
Wobbly might be the best term to define Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have smashed certain teams this season while falling prey to complacency and inconsistency every now and then. However, they finally won at home in the Premier League and they already boast of a perfect away record in the 2020/21 Premier League.
Manchester United have played a game fewer than Southampton and can come within a single point of the home side if they can maintain their perfect away record after their trip to St. Mary’s. The last two trips have ended in draws for United and Ole would hope his side can get it over the line this time around.
Let us take a closer look at how the two squads are shaping up before the Sunday match.
Team News & Tactics
The 4-4-2 has been working fine for Ralph Hasenhuttl and the former RB Leipzig manager is likely to field his team in the same formation. Among the crucial first-team stars, Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond are both sidelined while Mohammed Salisu will also be unavailable for Southampton.
Ings is back in training but the Manchester United game comes too soon for him, as per Hasenhuttl, who also confirmed that Redmond is nursing his hamstring and will take around a week before he can be in contention to feature again. There is no pressure in terms of selection, with Hasenhuttl likely to name an unchanged eleven from the 1-1 draw against Wolves.
Jan Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard are a solid ball-playing duo at centre-back and will reprise their roles on Sunday, with Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand being the designated wide defenders. Alex McCarthy should keep his place in goal against Manchester United.
James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu pick themselves in central midfield. But, it is Stuart Armstrong who has been the catalyst for Southampton through the right side. Moussa Djenepo should ideally start on the left side of the four-man midfield.
In the absence of Danny Ings, Theo Walcott will continue to be deployed upfront. The Englishman will be buoyed by his goal against Wolves and will look to spur on, with Che Adams his designated partner-in-crime. Hasenhuttl must have observed Manchester United players being nervy early on in the game when pressed and is likely to advise his players to start the press right from the attacking line.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): McCarthy; Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Vestergaard, Bertrand; Armstrong, Ward-Prowse, Romeu, Djenepo; Adams, Walcott
Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw are both still recovering from their respective injuries while Ole has also iterated on the almost-certain unavailability of Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba. This, along with the knocks received by Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Victor Lindelof during the midweek Champions League win over Istanbul Basaksehir, will push Ole’s squad depth to the limit.
Axel Tuanzebe might get a rare chance to start, with Lindelof nursing his knock from the midweek, and will have Harry Maguire to back him up in central defence. Wan-Bissaka has become a necessity for United due to a lack of competition for places at right-back and Ole will likely field the former Crystal Palace star. Alex Telles should be stationed on the left.
In midfield, Ole must have witnessed the gaps left behind due to starting Donny van de Beek at the base of the midfield. However, Nemanja Matic’s ineffectiveness might compel the manager to start the Netherlands international alongside Fred.
Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are all slated to start in attack, with the right side a toss-up between Juan Mata, Daniel James and Mason Greenwood. James had an impressive cameo against Istanbul and could get the nod due to his troubling pace as a way to keep Bertrand from wandering forward all too often.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Tuanzebe, Maguire, Telles; van de Beek, Fred; James, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
1. Manchester United to win @ 2.00
2. Both Teams to Score – YES @ 1.70
1. Manchester United to score in Both Halves @ 3.00
1. Southampton have scored exactly 2 goals in each of their four home games in the 2020/21 Premier League.
2. Manchester United have a perfect away record so far in the 2020/21 Premier League with an aggregate scoreline of 10-4.
3. Southampton come into the match having kept 3 consecutive clean sheets at home in the Premier League.
4. Manchester United have failed to keep a single clean sheet away from home after five matches in the Premier League and Champions League combined this season.
5. Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford have 6 goals and as many assists between them for Manchester United away in the 2020/21 Premier League.
Player to Watch
Donny van de Beek
Our Top 10 in Distance Covered per 90 (UEFA Champions League):
11,637m – Van de Beek
10,960m – Fernandes
10,898m – Matic
10,289m – Fred
10,266m – McTominay
10,097m – Cavani
9,910m – Pogba
9,907m – Greenwood
9,858m – Wan-Bissaka
9,648m – Telles pic.twitter.com/3XUOppUIi2
— UtdArena (@utdarena) November 27, 2020
This game could open a natural yet unthinkable doorway for Donny van de Beek. The Dutch international’s telepathic chemistry with Bruno Fernandes has been witnessed by everyone. The fact that van de Beek is a danger for the opposition when having the ability to get the ball with space in front of him makes him an interesting proposition for the number 6 role alongside Fred.
However, there were many gaping holes in the midfield against Istanbul Basaksehir and Southampton will make infinitely more of such opportunities if presented to them on Sunday. Matic has proven to be ineffective to an extent in that role this season while McTominay does not provide the same creative impetus, despite being a hard-worker in midfield.
Van de Beek has already proven he can be an asset going forward from the number 6 position while also covering more grass than any other Manchester United player in the Champions League.
However, his true test against Southampton will be whether he can graft in the midfield for the second balls and help the defence out like a true number 6. If he can do that against Southampton, it might be the doorway for him to become a Manchester United regular.
Southampton 2-3 Manchester United
Ralph Hasenhuttl will advise his Southampton side to go all out early on in terms of pressing in search of some errors and loose balls from the Manchester United defenders and holding midfielders. However, Manchester United will likely settle in slowly and become more dangerous as the game progresses, with the linkup play between Donny van de Beek, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford an explosive proposition.
For Southampton, they will rely on Stuart Armstrong to carve United wide open, with James Ward-Prowse’s set-pieces almost always a threatening prospect for the opposition. Hasenhuttl might not have the pace of Redmond but will direct his players to try and exploit the United defence with counters and fast plays.
Our bet is on Manchester United keeping their perfect away record intact and moving up the Premier League, if only with a narrow win on Sunday.
Manchester United and Southampton have played out recent games at St. Mary’s with an identical scoreline as predicted by us, with the Robin van Persie hattrick being a classic comeback. The new faces often seem to do the trick for Manchester when they are in search of a win at St. Mary’s. This time, it may be the turn for Bruno Fernandes or Edinson Cavani to shine.
The neutrals will be hoping for another classic and we are predicting one to unfold at St. Mary’s when Southampton and Manchester United play on Sunday.