Manchester United travel to the South Coast on Sunday to take on Southampton, looking to build on their victory over Fulham, and notch up a second straight win.
After slipping to an opening weekend defeat to Everton, victory over Fulham was imperative, and with the likes of Chelsea and City still unbeaten, Sir Alex will know the importance of maintaining a winning run.
Southampton, along with Aston Villa, are the only team yet to get a point on the board, after defeats to Manchester City and Wigan, and they will be desperate to achieve a positive result. They played admirably at the Etihad Stadium, actually leading with 25 minutes left, before succumbing to a 3-2 defeat. However reality hit home when Roberto Martinez’s men visited last weekend, as two second half goals were enough to see them lose two out of two.
United’s new boys, Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa will make the trip to St Mary’s full of confidence, after they both opened their accounts for the Red Devils. van Persie, starting ahead of Wayne Rooney, hooked in a delightful first time volley, restoring parity for the reds, whilst the instrumental Kagawa reacted quickly to a loose ball, giving United a 2-1 lead.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will always be wary of making the trip to Southampton, after those infamous results in the mid nineties. United were embarrassingly beaten 6-3 there, only days after a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Newcastle, and they suffered another defeat there the season after. On that occasion the shirts were to blame, as the red devils slipped to a 3-1 loss, with Sir Alex claiming that the players couldn’t see each other properly in those grey shirts. Hopefully, no excuses will need to be made after the game on Sunday.
Team Selection Thoughts
David de Gea had a mixed game against Fulham between the posts, yet again making a series of fantastic saves from the likes of Dembele and Petric, but he showed his vulnerability from crosses. He failed to claim a routine delivery from the left, and the ball ricocheted off Nemanja Vidic into the net, giving Fulham a lifeline. However, overall he still had a good game, and even the most experienced goalkeepers make mistakes. Who can forget van der Sar against West Brom a couple of seasons ago. Lindegaard is ready to come in as and when required though, and made a world class double save in the reserves against Tottenham, showcasing his talents, but the young Spaniard is likely to continue.
United have been boosted by the news that Jonny Evans is fit, and he should take his place alongside Vidic, finally giving the rearguard a more recognised feel. Not only does it add more continuity and steel to the back four, it frees up Michael Carrick, who was one of United’s best performers last season, to take his place in the midfield. Rafael and Evra will continue in the full back positions, after they both had fantastic games going forward against the Cottagers. Rafael will have been disappointed to be left out against Everton and he played with passion and determination, a sign that he wants to fight for his place, and make that right back spot his own.
Sir Alex Ferguson has announced that Ashley Young will be sidelined with a knee injury, and could be out for two weeks, meaning that Nani could be reinstated on the left hand side. Antonio Valencia will continue on the right wing, and looked more like his old self against Fulham, after starting in the restrictive right back position against Everton. Danny Welbeck who signed a new contract with the Reds, is unlikely to start up front, with van Persie fit and firing, so there is a possibility he could start on the left wing if Nani doesn’t get the nod.
With Jonny Evans returning to the back four, Michael Carrick should take his place back in the centre of midfield, but this presents a selection headache for Sir Alex. If Carrick starts, it leaves only two places available, with Scholes, Cleverley, Anderson and Kagawa fighting it out. Kagawa, after scoring and impressing so far looks set to continue, and Cleverley hasn’t put a foot wrong, meaning that Scholes and Anderson will have to settle for a place on the bench.
Up front, Wayne Rooney has been sidelined for up to four weeks, so van Persie is set to become the main man, and after opening his account on his home debut, he will be looking to further justify his £24 million price tag. Last season’s top scorer with 30 goals, he will be the focal point for United, and the Red Devils will be expecting him to find the net on a regular basis.
Three Key Battles
Jose Fonte vs. Robin van Persie
van Persie will be the main threat for the Saints’ defence and Fonte has to be at his very best to stand a chance of subduing him. Not only can van Persie score spectacular goals from distance, but he can poach goals too, making him an all round striker. If he is afforded space in and around the box he will punish you, and after conceding five goals already this season, that tally will rise if they are slack at the back.
Antonio Valencia vs. Daniel Fox
The Ecuadorian’s pace, directness and crossing ability makes him one of United’s most dangerous attackers, and he and van Persie could form a lucrative partnership in the coming weeks and months. All he needs is the ball with space to run into, and if Fox allows him this he will be in for a busy afternoon. Valencia will have to be mindful of Fox joining in attacks and utilising his superb delivery, but if Valencia is on form, the Saints’ left back will spend a lot more time defending than foraying forward.
Nemanja Vidic vs. Rickie Lambert
Rickie Lambert scored 27 goals in 42 appearances last season and has already opened his account this term, so United will have to be very wary of him. The Liverpool born striker is not only good in the air but technically sound too, and Vidic will have his work cut out ensuring Lambert does not get any chances. If Vidic can subdue the prolific striker, then United can concentrate on scoring goals rather than conceding them.
Apart from a nervy last 20 minutes against Fulham, United were very impressive, and I fully expect them to take that form into this game. Southampton have lost back to back games and they will be very keen to get points on the board in front of a packed and vociferous St Mary’s crowd. However, the Red Devils should have too much attacking strength for Nigel Adkins’ men and record a second straight win, with van Persie among the goals.
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