Old foes Ronald Koeman and Louis van Gaal lock horns once more.
WBA 0-0 So’ton (Prem)
So’ton 3-0 Norwich (Prem)
Midtjylland 1-0 So’ton (EL)
Watford 0-0 So’ton (Prem)
So’ton 1-1 Midtjylland (EL)
PSV 2-1 Man Utd (CL)
Man Utd 3-1 Liverpool (Prem)
Swansea 2-1 Man Utd (Prem)
Club Brugge 0-4 Man Utd (CL)
Man Utd 0-0 Newcastle (Prem)
It has been a rather strange start to the season for third-placed Manchester United, who have managed to win three of their opening five games without ever really playing well.
Regardless of results, question marks remain over the style of football on display, with Van Gaal’s preoccupation with possession often making United look pedestrian and ponderous, lacking the speed and spark associated with the club in recent years.
On the flip side, it can be argued that the Red Devils have done well to grind out results in the early stages of the campaign before performances inevitably improve as time goes on.
Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay have all impressed to varying degrees, while Anthony Martial’s cameo against Liverpool and display against PSV suggests that the 19-year-old is not feeling the pressure of his sizeable price tag. The return of David de Gea between the sticks, meanwhile, is a significant upgrade on Sergio Romero.
Southampton fans will also have mixed feelings about the way their team has begun 2015/16. Failing to qualify for the Europa League group stage feels like a missed opportunity for a club who have not competed in Europe for 12 years, while Koeman’s side have been a little blunt at times in the Premier League.
Nevertheless, the Saints have only lost once in the top flight so far and, although three of their five matches have ended with the scores level, they have generally looked hard to beat – with the notable exception of the 3-0 reverse to Everton.
The slight concern for Koeman will be that the fixture list handed Southampton a relatively easy start; with clashes against Swansea, Chelsea, Leicester and Liverpool to follow after the visit of United on Sunday, Southampton will need to step up a level if they are to keep in touch with the top eight in the coming weeks.
Luke Shaw’s broken leg is a major blow for United, who have relied on the former Southampton man to provide an injection of pace when bursting forward from left-back. Wayne Rooney is a doubt with a hamstring issue and Phil Jones is unlikely to return to for this weekend’s clash after contracting thrombosis last month. Summer signing Jordy Clasie remains sidelined for Southampton with an ankle injury, while Gaston Ramirez is unlikely to recover from a knock in time to be involved. Ryan Bertrand could make his return to the first-team squad after a knee problem, but Fraser Forster is a long-term absentee.
Key battle: Graziano Pelle vs Chris Smalling
Smalling has enjoyed a terrific start to the season, arguably becoming United’s most indispensable player. Quick, strong and with an improved reading of the game, the 25-year-old looks to be finally fulfilling the potential he showed only in flashes over the last two or three years. In Pelle, he will face a very specific threat: the Italian is terrific in the air and a real handful for opposition centre-backs around the penalty area. He has found the back of the net twice in Saints’ five Premier League encounters so far this season – as well as scoring another two goals in the Europa League – suggesting he could be returning to the form in front of goal he showed at the start of 2014/15. Even if he does not score himself, Pelle is excellent at bringing the likes of Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane into play. If Smalling can stand up to the physical challenge he will face on Sunday, United have an excellent chance of leaving St Mary's with all three points.
United 0-1 So’ton (PL, Jan 15)
Saints 1-2 United (PL, Dec 14)
Saints 1-1 United (PL, May 14)
United 1-1 Saints (PL, Oct 13)
United 2-1 Saints (PL, Jan 13)
Koeman and Van Gaal’s feud dates back over a decade, when both men were working at Ajax. Koeman, coach of the Dutch giants, was unhappy when Van Gaal, the technical director, started to attend training sessions and give his opinion on team matters. The current United boss was also critical of how Koeman handled star names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. When Van Gaal decided to sell the Swedish striker to Juventus on deadline day in 2004, though, it was Koeman’s turn to be angry at not having enough time to find a replacement. The rift shows no signs of abating, either: both managers refused to have a post-match drink with the other after both of Southampton and United’s clashes last term.
Facts and figures
- Man United have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 7 league games against the Saints.
- All 4 of the league meetings between Ronald Koeman and Louis van Gaal have ended as away wins (2006/07 PSV vs AZ in Eredivisie and 2014/15 Southampton vs Man United).
- There has been just 1 red card in the 32 Premier League meetings between Southampton and Man United; that came in the 6-3 victory for the Saints in October 1996.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
40%-60%. Or, in terms of goals (if Louis van Gaal’s interested), 1-2.
Southampton vs Man United LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone
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Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).
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