On the back of a pair of disappointing draws, Manchester United really need to take all three points when they host struggling Southampton at Old Trafford on Saturday (17:30 GMT, live on BT Sport).
In truth, United did well to recover from a disastrous first half to secure a home point against Burnley on Boxing Day, with a double from Jesse Lingard, including a last-ditch equaliser, cancelling out the visitors’ advantage, but they would have had it down as a win beforehand.
Coupled with the preceding 2-2 draw against Leicester, it was a result that made it patently clear that any idea of Man Utd seriously challenging runaway leaders Manchester City for the title can now be discarded, as the bookies Premier League odds suggest. With Chelsea now just a point further back and Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in pursuit, it is those behind that should now be of greater concern.
Jose Mourinho’s side have toiled to regain their form following their 1-2 defeat at home to City earlier this month. Narrow victories over West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth were followed by elimination from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Bristol City and then the recent pair of draws. Results are starting to square with their less impressive underlying statistics.
Those figures suggest that without the outstanding David de Gea between the sticks, United could have been expected to concede at least five or six extra goals so far this season. Their attack also looks to be overproducing in comparison to the quality of chances created – a combination that could make the second half of the campaign a much trickier one.
Man Utd still have plenty of talent in their richly assembled squad and it seems that funds will also be available for Mourinho to further strengthen in January, which should be enough to see them remain on course for a top-four finish. More immediately, Southampton look like ideal opponents for a side seeking to restore confidence with a home victory.
Mauricio Pellegrino’s side were thrashed 2-5 at Tottenham Hotspur on Boxing Day, have won just four matches all season, and have picked up just six points from their nine away engagements. Confidence is low after a seven-match winless streak, and Pellegrino’s position is likely to come under heavy scrutiny if another defeat on Saturday is followed by a failure to secure all three points at home to Crystal Palace in their subsequent fixture.
It is difficult to fault Southampton much for their recent away form, given that after this weekend’s visit to Old Trafford, they will have faced Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and United in five of their last six road matches. The problem is more that they have failed to pick up sufficient points from their easier fixtures, both home and away, which has given Pellegrino little margin for error now that tougher matches are piling up.
There have been some flashes of promise over the last month or so but nothing concrete enough to offer compelling support for his continuation. The convincing 4-1 win at home to Everton towards the end of November has not been built upon and while there are probably at least three teams worse than Southampton this season, it is perhaps too much of a gamble to think so.
A competitive performance against United and victory at home to Palace would likely be enough to see the Saints board back Pellegrino with a couple of January signings and let things play out until the end of the season. If that proves unachievable, the break in league action for the third round of the FA Cup would provide an obvious opportunity for the club to bring in a new man for the remainder of the campaign.
There is, then, much at stake for both sides. Saints have pulled off a couple of surprise victories at Old Trafford in recent years but it is difficult to see them repeating that feat on Saturday. Man Utd won 1-0 when the two sides met on the south coast in September and should again be expected to secure victory in a similarly low-scoring match.
Our Preview’s Man Utd vs. Southampton Betting Tips
So the betting tips verdict of this match preview is: