YEEESSSS…we go for it??
If ever Louis van Gaal needed his first team to back up his ambitions for the league table, this would be the perfect time for them to step up. As Arsenal were failing to beat Stoke last Sunday, he mused of still being in the title race. If United can beat Southampton at Old Trafford this afternoon there may be some hope in that statement.
Last time out..
Despite winning the same fixture last season, Southampton have only won one of the last ten against us. It was also the only league game last season where Michael Carrick was outclassed by his opposite number Morgan Schneiderlin. However United (or Ed Woodward) have since neutralised that threat!
How to beat them
Visions of Anthony Martial and his goal scoring antics in the reverse fixture will haunt southamptons defence and especially Virgin van Dijk, who had a particularly traumatising afternoon and may well have needed a good lie down after the match. Martial is effective on the wings as well as leading the attack, but I do like him cutting in from out wide and really challenging the full backs of teams. For his debut goal against Liverpool he received the ball on the left flank about 30 yards away and exactly five seconds later the ball was resting in the back of the net. Put simply there are very few full backs around that can live with him. Given that van Gaal likes his forwards to engage both centre backs and create space for the wide players, I would prefer the more experienced Rooney to carry out this role and ensure he is in the right place when the cross comes calling, as it did against Swansea for a quite memorable and dare I say it…vintage looking United goal.
Return of the Wizard
One of the most uplifting bits of news for this game is the return in the squad for young Adnan Januzaj. I did feel for him when he packed his bags for Dortmund after being given one of the most important shirt numbers in Manchester United history. Leaving may well have been his decision and the fact that he has returned either means he realised that competing with Dortmund legend Marco Reus was futile or that his beloved United needed him more. I hope that he isn’t required for weekly “benchwarming” the same painful way that Andreas Pereira has been utilised. Whenever Ashley Young has played in an advanced role this season him and Martial have done what United players have done so well over the years, stay wide and stretch teams before crossing or creating space for creative players like Herrera, Mata and Rooney. Memphis Depay has just not done this enough over the first half of the season, however to his credit when given the opportunity in 2016 this is exactly what he has done better. Whether Memphis is given the opportunity to start or Januzaj/Lingard are given the wide role, this MUST be the way to play, or we will have another painful afternoon to sit through.
Either way, it is fantastic to see the little Belgian back to where he belongs. A short tutelage from Marco Reus and an in-form Aubemayeng can only be benificial. With all the injuries and inconsistent form, now is the time for him to stake an ‘indispensible’ status in the first team as Anthony Martial has done.
Pelle is a doubt for today’s game and I hope he does not play, simply because he was a huge handful for Blind at St. Mary’s last time. I really feel the defence will cope if Charlie Austin is given his first start in the Premier League this season. Much of Southampton’s threat will come from Pelle, Mane and Ward-Prowse. Therefore it is massively important that the midfield is mobile, robust and fluid to neutralise the pace and power of their midfield. Ward-Prowse has been an important player for Southampton this year and United could do with him having a quiet game.
The Devil’s Own
The first name on the teamsheet today irrespective of injuries should be Morgan Schneiderlin, he knows the opposition more than any scout and his presence in the midfield this year has allowed an assured calmness. However I feel he is not allowed to roam further up the pitch and as a result seldomly creates many chances, so I hope that he is paired with an energetic ball retaining player such as Ander Herrera and a creative attacking midfielder who can play behind Wayne Rooney. I’d like to see Juan Mata given a chance (or in an ideal world Andreas Pereira) although I can see Fellaini starting in the midfield with Schneiderlin and Herrera as a “number ten”. Although not many fans would want to hear it, I don’t think Herrera created much in the last few games and it might be the way he is instructed to play, but that is how I feel. He has probably in fairness been affected by the absence of Mata down the right hand side. Fellaini has been the subject of much confusion recently, but I could speak for thousands of fans when I actually don’t mind the man when used for certain situation. I just wish he was played in a very advanced role rather than sitting deep, where he gets bypassed way too easily. In his Everton days on his day he was unplayable, I cant imagine any defender enjoying his company during a game (ask Ryan Shawcross). Unfortunately his inclusion behind Rooney would make the pairing quite slow and we lose pace in the attack, this is why it is best really that he comes in as a “plan B”.
Chris Smalling vs Charlie Austin: “Mike” Smalling has been in fantastic form this season and other than getting duped by Emre Can last weekend, looked fairly solid. I can’t see Austin getting the better of Smalling but also the Saints are a better team than QPR were last season and he could play much better when surrounded by a better functioning team.
Wayne Rooney vs van Dijk: Virgil’s premier league era didn’t start too well and he will have bad memories of United. Rooney is in form and if he gets a decent chance I really think he will put it away. I did put some importance on my opening blog regarding his confidence for the chance against Spurs and it did pan out the way I had then feared, however that Swansea goal has buoyed his confidence right back up.
Prediction: 1-0 United.
If Schneiderlin starts and Pelle doesn’t, I expect United to get through this one but with Fellaini in the midfield battle there’s always the realistic chance we could get overrun and I could get it wrong. I hope I don’t.