Manchester United are still searching for consistency at this early stage of the season and will face a serious test of their credentials when they welcome high-flying Southampton to Old Trafford (15:00 BST, Saturday).
United are ninth in the nascent Premier League table with 10 points from three wins, one draw and three defeats. They are yet to win back-to-back matches this season, but will have a chance to do so this weekend having triumphed away at Sunderland before the international break.
It was a welcome three points for David Moyes after two consecutive defeats, including a 4-1 mauling at the hands of Manchester City in the local derby, but the performance was far from impressive, particularly in the first half. Defensive problems were again evident and Sunderland could have been two or three up at half time if they had taken their chances.
United’s eventual victory came courtesy of a superbly taken double from 18-year-old debutant Adnan Januzaj. He clearly has talent and looks to have a prosperous future ahead of him, but despite the resulting media fawning, he is certainly not the player on whom United’s hopes for the season should rest.
Januzaj’s opportunity came primarily because of the poor early season form of United’s other wide players, with Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani producing just one assist between them in nine collective starts. Shinji Kagawa could provide an alternative, but is best deployed centrally and has been given few opportunities so far this season.
With little invention in midfield, the bulk of United’s creative and goalscoring responsibility has, to date, fallen on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie. They have three goals apiece so far and have the necessary quality to fashion chances against most sides but are still in need more support from the rest of the team.
Rio Ferdinand was rested from United’s victory over Sunderland due to fatigue, but is in contention to return to the starting lineup after recuperating during the international break. Tom Cleverley missed both of England’s final two World Cup qualifiers with a calf injury and is a doubt for Saturday’s match, while Darren Fletcher is once again absent.
Southampton are full of confidence coming into this match after making an excellent start to the season. They are 4th in the table with 14 points from four wins, two draws and one defeat, and have won each of their three last matches without conceding.
Mauricio Pochettino stepped into a difficult situation when he replaced the popular Nigel Adkins (who had led Saints to consecutive promotions) in January, but having steered Southampton clear of relegation trouble in his first half-season at the club, he has now fully convinced the supporters of his worth with a strong beginning to the current campaign.
Pochettino likes his teams to press aggressively from the front, depriving their opponents time on the ball. Southampton allow less opposition passes per successful interception or tackle than any other side in the division, displaying clearly the eagerness with which they look to win possession.
The result is that Southampton are largely able to keep their opponents at arms length, away from the areas in which they can take high quality shots at goal. They have, to date, allowed less penalty area shots per match (5.62) than all but six of the league’s teams and currently have the best defensive record in the division, with just two goals conceded in seven matches.
If problems do exist, it is in forward areas. Saints have scored just three times from open play so far this season (in addition to four from set-pieces) and Pochettino’s attempts to fit Rickie Lambert and the expensively-procured Daniel Osvaldo into the same side have been quite awkward.
Pochettino faces an anxious wait on the fitness of goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who picked up a thigh injury prior to Poland’s loss to England on Tuesday. Boruc has been excellent so far this season and would be a big miss if unavailable. He otherwise has a full strength squad to choose from.
Manchester United vs Southampton Betting Tips Verdict
United were 2-1 winners in last season’s equivalent fixture and Southampton generally have a very poor record at Old Trafford, having gained just one point from 14 previous Premier League matches at the stadium. Their last league win at Old Trafford came in 1988.
United struggle to deal with teams who attack them with pace, but although Southampton do often look to get the ball forward quickly upon gaining possession, they do not possess the same profusion of outright pace as those teams who have profited most against United so far this season.
Pochettino’s side will certainly make things difficult for United in possession and could cut off the supply line to Rooney and Van Persie if Michael Carrick’s previous struggles against Barcelona’s pressing game are repeated on Saturday. We expect to see a tightly contested match, with Saints having a good chance of coming away with a result.
- Back Southampton +1 on an Asian Handicap @ 15/16 with BetVictor. If they lose by one goal, your stake is returned, while the bet pays out for a draw or victory
- All seven of Southampton’s matches in the Premier League this season have ended with two or less goals and although this fixture has a history of producing three or more goals, the circumstances are vastly changed this season and we expect a low-scoring match. Back under 2.5 goals @ best odds of 6/5 with Coral.