Southampton vs. Manchester United
Venue: St. Mary’s Stadium
TV: BT Sport
Referee: Kevin Friend
Manchester United travel to St. Mary’s Stadium this weekend to take on an embattled Southampton side who are winless in their last nine fixtures.
Southampton’s only victory this season, against Crystal Palace at the beginning of September, seems a distant memory for Mark Hughes and his side. Their most recent humiliation was at the hands of Fulham who bet them 3-2 last weekend to register their second win of the season. Southampton are firm relegation contenders at this stage of the season and Hughes will be wondering how long he can hold onto his job after some abject performances in recent weeks.
Another loss this weekend would see them stay in the bottom three although their relegation zone compatriots Fulham and Cardiff have tough fixtures against Chelsea and Wolves respectively. Victory against a vulnerable United side could see Southampton leap up as far as 15th if other results go their way.
After a minor resurgence in October which saw them narrowly beat Newcastle, Everton and Bournemouth, United have reverted to their early season form with lifeless performances and poor results against Manchester City and Crystal Palace.
A top four finish looks increasingly unlikely for United this season and discontent seems to have set in at Old Trafford as the side were booed off after their goalless draw against Crystal Palace last weekend. A win against a beleaguered Southampton side would do little to improve United’s fortunes going into the Christmas break.
Victor Lindelof battled through an injury in the dying minutes of last week’s fixture after Mourinho used all his substitutions and will miss this weekend’s encounter. Lindelof has been one of the few bright sparks for United this season and will be a big loss. Phil Jones filled in for the Swede in the Champion’s League midweek and could very well do so again this weekend. Matteo Darmian and Marcus Rojo are also doubts for Saturday evening’s fixture as they both continue to recover from knocks.
Big questions remain over Romelu Lukaku who has failed to score in the league since September’s fixture against Watford. Mourinho could turn to Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford or Alexis Sanchez to lead the line although none of these have massively impressed in that role in recent weeks.
United’s lack of energy and creativity in midfield is exacerbated by Nemanja Matic’s poor form this season so Mourinho could switch things up and give Fred a start in the middle. Ander Herrera is another option with Spaniard offering some much needed movement and tenacity to a sluggish midfield. Marouane Fellaini could also be rewarded with a start after his midweek heroics saved his team’s blushes against Young Boys in the Champions League.
Danny Ings is struggling to recover from a hamstring injury which saw him miss last weekend’s fixture against Fulham. Ings will be a huge loss to the Saints as the Englishman is their top scorer with four goals this season and, along with Manolo Gabbiadini, is the only Southampton striker to score this campaign. Question marks also remain over the fitness of Shane Long and Matt Targett.
Hughes needs to start getting his attacking players firing on all cylinders if his side are to avoid relegation and he is stay in job beyond the new year. Both Charlie Austin and Gabbiadini have been underwhelming this campaign having only mustered a solitary goal between the two of them.
Similar problems are present at the back for Southampton. They have managed to ship an astonishing 24 goals already this season and currently have a goal difference of -14. Jannik Vestergaard may have only started six games this season but his size and and physical presence could be called upon this weekend to counteract the likes of Lukaku and Fellaini for United.
Predicted Starting XI’s:
Southampton (4-2-3-1): McCarthy; Cedric, Vestergaard, Hoedt, Bertrand; Højbjerg, Lemina; Gabbiadini, Armstrong, Redmond; Austin.
Manchester United (4-3-3): De Gea; Young, Smalling, Jones, Shaw; Matic, Pogba, Fellaini; Mata, Lukaku, Martial.
Score Prediction: Southampton 1 Manchester United 2
Both teams have been in dire form of late but I suspect that United’s overall quality should be good enough for them to scrape a narrow victory.