Manchester United host Southampton today hoping to continue where they left off before the international break, when Adnan Januzaj’s brace rescued three points for David Moyes’ men away at Sunderland.
Southampton, however, are a much harder task than many would have imagined when the fixtures list were released last summer, as the Saints arrive at Old Trafford sitting in fourth place of the table, four points ahead of United and, crucially, boasting the league’s best defensive record, having conceded twice in seven games – Europe’s second best defensive record after Roma’s.
The Saints, who could be without Artur Boruc as the Polish keeper tries to shake off a hamstring injury, haven’t won at Old Trafford in their last 14 visits, drawing one – in 1999, as Massimo Taibi ensured his permanent spot in highlights reel focusing on goalkeepers’ blunders – and losing the following 13.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side, however, have been this season’s surprise package and have already proved they can beat a big team on their own turf when they won at Anfield last month.
As impressive as their defensive record is, Southampton have plenty of talent in other areas of the pitch, with Adam Lallana, Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin shaping into an excellent midfield combination, while Ricky Lambert and Pablo Osvaldo are likely to test United’s back four.
Southampton’s reliance on retaining possession could spell trouble for United for United’s midfield, where Marouane Fellaini is expected to play alongside Michael Carrick, who was superb for England on Tuesday night, while Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic should be given the nod at centre-backs given that both have enjoyed a 10-day rest.
With Tuesday’s game against Real Sociedad looming large, David Moyes could be tempted to rest some of his players, but considering United’s current position on the table and the fact that the Spaniards look an easier assignment than Southampton, the United manager is expected to field his strongest XI.
There’s genuine interest to see whether Adnan Januzaj will retain his starting spot after seizing his chance in spectacular fashion two weeks ago, while Nani should be preferred to Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney will be expected to continue his fantastic form up-front, with Robin Van Persie expected to partner him.
Excluding penalties, the Dutchman hasn’t scored in the last five Premier League games and has found the net in only four of the last 18 league matches, but was in scintillating form a week ago as Holland thrashed Hungary 4-1.
United will need him to be firing on all cylinders and they must make the most of a relatively easy run which, after today’s encounter, sees them facing Stoke (also at home) and Fulham, before welcoming Arsenal on November 10 when we’ll have a clearer picture of whether United have any realistic chances of mounting a serious title defence.
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