The FourFourTwo Preview: Southampton vs Man United
The Premier League's first ever all-Dutch touchline tussle.
- Arsenal 1-0 So’ton (Prem)
- So’ton 0-3 Man City (Prem)
- Villa 1-1 So’ton (Prem)
- So’ton 2-0 Leicester (Prem)
- Hull 0-1 So’ton (Prem)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 2-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Man Utd 3-0 Hull (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Man City 1-0 Man Utd (Prem)
Talk around these two clubs this season has nicely summed up the hyperbolic nature of the discourse that surrounds football.
Over the summer, Manchester United were 'back' before even kicking a ball, while Southampton were 'in crisis' because they sold a few players and hadn't yet signed replacements. A few weeks into the new campaign, United boss Louis van Gaal was 'under pressure' after dropping points to Swansea, Sunderland and Burnley, while Ronald Koeman was declared Manager of the Year elect because Southampton beat West Ham, Newcastle and Swansea.
We're now 14 games deep, and Wednesday's defeat at Arsenal (the true embodiment of the flip-flopping nature of modern football) leaves Saints a massive THREE games without a win. No talk of another crisis just yet (other than a possible injury crisis - more on that later), but lose here and drop points at in-form Burnley five days later, and you just know questions will be asked.
United, meanwhile, have now won four on the spin. Title form!? No. Pushing for top spot will be beyond them - Chelsea and Manchester City are still a level above - but they, like Southampton, look to be taking steady steps in the right direction. Van Gaal's side are already looking a good bet to secure a return to the Champions League - most likely their aim for the season. Southampton look in a good position to slightly improve on last season's league finish of eighth - most likely their aim for the season.
It may not be quite as exciting as Saints coming fourth or going down, or United winning the league or finishing seventh, but, well, it's what's going to happen, so get used to it.
Saints will monitor the fitness of key trio Toby Alderweireld, Jack Cork and Dusan Tadic, who all picked up knocks at the Emirates. They will also hope to have Morgan Schneiderlin back from the thigh injury that ruled him out of Wednesday's defeat. James Ward-Prowse and Jay Rodriguez remain sidelined.
Luke Shaw will miss out on a return to his former club with an ankle injury picked up in the recent win at Arsenal, while Rafael and Phil Jones are also doubts. Summer signings Angel Di Maria and Daley Blind are out of contention, but Wayne Rooney could return from the knee injury that saw him miss the win over Stoke.
Key battle: Graziano Pelle vs David de Gea
Southampton's Italian striker started 2014/15 like a house on fire - women were screaming, grown men were running in fear, property prices tumbled. Then the fire went out. That's a laboured analogy, but the point is he's stopped scoring goals. Pelle hasn't netted in the league since the 8-0 humbling of Sunderland.
In the six matches since, he's hit the target with just 2 of his 23 shots - most of which (well, 9) came against Stoke. That's some drop-off from his early-season form - up to and including that Sunderland romp (eight games), he'd tested the opposition keeper with 14 of his 27 shots, finding the net with 6 of them.
Could his struggles against Stoke have dented his confidence? Perhaps, although he did later score two League Cup goals against the Potters (one of them an almighty screamer).
Either way, he'll need to be at his most clinical to beat De Gea, who is in fine form between the sticks for United. The Spaniard has made some stunning saves of late, and his steady performance at Arsenal (where he made 8 saves, see below) was the foundation for the best result of the Red Devils' season to date.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Saints 1-1 United (PL, May 14)
- United 1-1 Saints (PL, Oct 13)
- United 2-1 Saints (PL, Jan 13)
- Saints 2-3 United (PL, Sep 12)
- Saints 1-2 United (FAC, Jan 11)
"We had a problem because I was the coach of Ajax and [Van Gaal] came in as technical director," Koeman told The Independent earlier this season. "We had some problems in the relation between his job and my job. First he left Ajax and, after three-and-a-half years, I left too. It was difficult because it was a problem in the relation in football. But you know, if there is a problem in football relations then there is also a problem outside of football. Never more was there the contact that we had before."
Should be interesting, then...
Facts and figures
- Southampton have scored the first goal in 4 of their last 5 Premier League meetings with United but lost 3 and won 0 of those 4 matches.
- Robin van Persie has scored 5 goals in 6 Premier League games against Southampton.
- Nathaniel Clyne has made more tackles than any other Premier League player this season (63).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Another spirited and encouraging performance from Southampton, but another defeat. 2-1 to the visitors.