In what promises to be an intriguing clash, Man Utd host the side one spot below them in the Premier League table, Southampton, at Old Trafford on Sunday (16:00 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
United lost some of their momentum over the Christmas period, ending a run of six consecutive victories with draws in three of their four league fixtures. They lie third in the Premier League table, with 37 points from 10 wins, seven draws and three defeats.
Louis van Gaal’s side endured an uncomfortable opening hour away to Yeovil Town in the FA Cup on Sunday. They struggled to establish any sort of rhythm in possession and had a couple of shaky moments in defence against their League One hosts. Relief came through Ander Herrera’s fine strike on 64 minutes; substitute Angel Di Maria (pictured) added a late second.
It would be fair to say that it was not the first unconvincing performance from Man Utd in recent times. They possess sufficient quality in certain areas to put together passages of good play but still have a tendency to drift through periods of matches. Even during their winning streak, they were often reliant on the heroics of goalkeeper David de Gea.
Van Gaal has admitted that he is not entirely happy with his side’s performances. His squad have suffered a lot of injuries – too many, perhaps, for it to be a coincidence – and so he has rarely had all of his best players available to him at one time. Yet considering the club’s summer outlay, more will be expected from his side in the second half of the season.
Van Gaal will definitely be without the injured Daley Blind (knee) and Marouane Fellaini (rib) for this match, while Antonio Valencia (groin), Ashley Young (hamstring), Luke Shaw (ankle), Marcos Rojo (thigh) and Rafael (knock) are all doubtful.
Southampton also appointed a Dutch coach for this season, and everyone at St Mary’s seems happy with the impact that Ronald Koeman has had on the club. They are fourth in the Premier League table, with 36 points from 11 wins, three draws and six defeats.
Koeman’s side were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Ipswich Town in the FA Cup on Sunday. Morgan Schneiderlin equalised the Championship side’s early opener just past the half hour mark, but Saints thereafter laboured to break down a determined rearguard action from their visitors. They will now face an extra fixture they could really have done without.
Consistency of selection has been one of the keys to their success this season. Koeman has a relatively thin squad at his disposal and has largely picked the same players from week to week. Seven players have started 18 or more of Southampton’s 20 league fixtures to date (compared to just two for United, for instance), and injuries or fatigue could yet arise.
Saints snapped a run of four consecutive league defeats to win three of their four league fixtures over the Christmas period, including impressive home victories over both Everton and Arsenal. Those results reinstated them as genuine top-four contenders, a status backed up by the best defensive record in the league and the joint third-best scoring record.
Koeman will not be able to call on the injured Jack Cork (ankle) and Sadio Mane (calf) for the trip to Old Trafford, while Maya Yoshida has joined up with Japan’s Asian Cup squad. Nathaniel Clyne (ankle) is expected to return.
Man Utd v Southampton Betting Tips
Both of last season’s fixtures between these sides ended in 1-1 draws, while United emerged as 2-1 victors when they met at St Mary’s earlier this season. United have an excellent record at home to Southampton, having won five and drawn one of the last six meetings in Manchester. Saints last won at Old Trafford back in 1988.
Man Utd stumbled through the Christmas period undefeated following a series of unconvincing displays. While their attacking play has been excellent in patches, defensive problems still remain, leaving Van Gaal with plenty to work on. His side have still only accumulated the same number of points as they did in the same fixtures under David Moyes last season.
Saints were very unfortunate to lose to United at St Mary’s earlier this season, with only a stellar display from the visiting goalkeeper De Gea preventing them from taking at least a point from a fixture in which they enjoyed the better of the play. They have, though, generally been weaker away than at St Mary’s, having lost four of their nine away matches.
United have won eight of their 10 home fixtures, including each of their last five, but are nevertheless likely to be severely tested by a well-organised Southampton side. We therefore believe that a draw is the most likely outcome.
- Back the draw @ best odds of 14/5 with Paddy Power.
- Southampton regularly look to keep things tight in the early exchanges away from home, with the majority of the goals, for and against, in their away matches coming in the second half of play. United are usually quick-starters at Old Trafford but Sunday’s match is likely to follow a different pattern. Back the second half to be the highest scoring half @ 23/20 with BetVictor.