Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United travel to St Mary’s tonight in what is one of the Premier League’s most mouthwatering top four clashes so far.
Manchester United could leapfrog the Saints tonight with a win whilst Southampton can themselves leapfrog West Ham with a victory. Southampton are currently in fourth with United just behind them by a point in fifth.
Form is certainly in the North West club’s favour having won their last four games against Crystal Palace, Arsenal, Hull and Stoke. Southampton have had a large dose of reality in their last two fixtures, losing to the Premier League’s ‘traditional’ bigger powers of Manchester City and Arsenal.
Ronald Koeman’s men showed against Arsenal however, that they will not go down without a fight. They also lacked a little bit of luck, having to play the final stages of the game against the Gunners without defender Toby Alderweireld who had to come off through injury.
The Saints had used up their three substitutions and this opened up space for Alexis Sanchez to fire home the winner in the 89th minute.
Van Gaal’s team are growing in confidence each week and this game is a huge chance for his players to illustrate that they can consistently challenge in the top four for the remainder of the season.
A 2-1 win over Stoke has confirmed beliefs that United may be back to where they were just a couple of seasons ago. Attitude and confidence are a massive factor in improving a team’s fortunes and if United can continue their form as injury news begins to turn positive their could be a major turnaround for the Red Devils.
Southampton themselves have surpassed expectations and will take heart from how close they pushed Arsenal in their previous encounter.
On the injury front, both sides are still hampered with long-term injuries. Southampton have to do without Jay Rodriguez, James Ward-Prowse, Morgan Schneiderlin and Sam Gallagher. Alderweireld and Jack Cork both sustained injuries against the Gunners with Cork set to be out for up to six weeks with ankle ligament damage, according to Sky Sports.
United have their own long-term injury concerns with Rafael, Daley Blind, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Jonny Evans all out of the clash.
This match is decisive for both sides and should not be understated as a major clash. United will want to flex their muscles and show they are a real threat within the top four while Southampton are still aiming to assert themselves as a genuine contender for a Champions League spot.
Another element to this battle is the tension between the two managers. The Telegraph reports of how a major falling out at Ajax creates the back-drop to one of the bigger managerial feuds in world football.
However, it is the players that must do the talking on the pitch and hopefully the managers’ differences don’t unduly influence the game in a negative manner.
The Saints have become known for their quality football, spearheaded by their talisman Graziano Pelle but a team effort will be needed to outplay a United side on a roll. Hopefully the football does the talking and the occasion won’t get to either set of players.
Manchester United are the in-form side and are coping well with injuries. The Saints missing Jack Cork and Toby Alderweireld could be crucial. United to sneak past Koeman’s men away from home.
Southampton 1-2 Manchester United
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Steve Collis from Melbourne, Australia (Manchester United (HDR) Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.