It’s truly been goals galore this season at Old Trafford, and that continued on Wednesday night, as a scintillating United hit four at home once again. That lead to United advancing in the competition they triumphed over Southampton in last season. However, it’s a tricky tie on south coast this weekend in the league. St. Mary’s has been prosperous for the Reds since Southampton’s promotion to the Premier League. With no defeats for the visitors coming in this fixture, José Mourinho’s side now have the chance to continue their good form and that record.
After another managerial change in the summer, the Saints are again going through an expected transitional period. The Argentine, who took Alavés to the Copa Del Rey Final last season in Spain (only to be beaten by Barcelona), has not changed much in terms of personnel. Full-backs Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand are dangerous to say the least. New signings in midfielder Mario Lemina and defender Wesley Hoedt have given Mauricio Pellegrino a healthy addition of proven youth to help their already strong youth products such as Jack Stephens and James Ward-Prowse. Stalwarts in the side such as Fraser Forster, Maya Yoshida, Steven Davis & Dušan Tadić are all expected to play. Strikers Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini have both made an impact early in the respective Saints careers.
Austin scored the winner in Manchester soon after signing in January 2016, and Gabbiadini netted twice in the EFL Cup Final between the two sides last season, also soon after signing. Pellegrino’s side are only missing one man through injury and that’s Pierre Emil Højbjerg. Southampton have had an equal array of results in their 6 matches played in all competitions this season. 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses (1 of those defeats being the only non-league match in that EFL Cup) ensure Southampton have made an acceptable start to life under the new boss. Arguably the second biggest transfer saga inside the Premier League this summer, Virgil Van Dijk remains at Southampton and is still club-captain. The Dutch centre-back clearly wanted a move away but after nothing materialised and during the summer, Liverpool even had to make a public apology for illegally talking to the player. He could be back in the side to face United, who also have selection problems – although very good ones to have.
After fringe players took their chance midweek, Mourinho will be scratching his head when looking at his tactics board this week. David De Gea is set to return in goal after Sergio Romero & Joel Pereira have now gotten some minutes under their belt. Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Nemanja Matić, Henrik Mkhitaryan & Romelu Lukaku, should likely all see themselves return to the starting XI due to their rests since last weekend. Left of the defence is arguably the most contentious and dangerous spot in the United lineup at the moment, with Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian, Ashley Young and Luke Shaw all vying for that place. It could depend on who players in another contentious spot but much less dangerous, the man who will play directly in front of them. Anthony Martial & Marcus Rashford have shown absolute quality so far this campaign and did so in midweek. The default tactic for Mourinho is to go with Rashford to start and bring Martial on later in the match – Rashford in fact was substituted on Wednesday night. Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard will also be fighting for a role in the attacking trio behind Lukaku. One of Ander Herrera & Marouane Fellaini should partner Matić behind the attacking 4 men ahead of them, with Paul Pogba remaining injured.
The Reds travel to Moscow next Wednesday so that will be in the manager’s thinking ahead of another long travel this week. A 3-5-2 was tested late on Wednesday, showing the Portuguese boss – despite his seemingly negative view on it post-Sunday – still has it in his mind. Southampton marks many things for United as of late. Old Trafford fully welcomed Mourinho, Bailly, Mkhitaryan, Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimović for the first time in a victory early on last season. In the aforementioned EFL Cup Final last season, it was the catalyst for United to kick-on and gave the squad a huge lift. Marcos Rojo and Ibrahmović are still unavailable through injury but other than that United will travel with a fully-fit squad. Craig Pawson will take control of the match on the coast, aiming to not have to conduct such a wild match as the one he endured back at Crystal Palace – United’s opponents next weekend – last season.
Will United continue their unbeaten run this season and unbeaten run at St. Mary’s? It certainly won’t be easy. Southampton will be looking to spoil the party and cause a shock to United’s stubborn system. Which team will be marching back into the changing rooms after Saturday’s match; the Saints, or the reds?