Southampton’s Premier League clash with Manchester United represents the pick of the 3pms in the Premier League this weekend. Although the Red Devils are firm favourites for this one, Saints have the quality in attack and the defensive organisation to cause an upset – not to mention the home advantage. So, how will Saturday’s meeting at St. Mary’s pan out? Here’s everything you need to know before kickoff…
Considering Manchester United’s utter dominance during the first half of the Premier League era, Southampton’s record against the Red Devils is nothing to be ashamed of – in fact, it’s decent going with 26 points gained from their 36 encounters to date, including two wins from the last five meetings in the top flight. Perhaps most impressively, they’ve only failed to score against the Red Devils on nine occasions and whenever you find the net, you’ve always got a chance of winning. Regardless, it’s still the Red Devils who boast the considerably superior win rate on Southampton’s turf, by a 28% margin.
Without meaning to pass judgement, Craig Pawson is the kind of referee who infuriates fans. A real stickler for the rules and obsessed with his own whistle, Pawson ranked in the top six of the 19 referees in the Premier League last season for fouls per tackle, fouls per game and cards per game, hinting there will be plenty of free kicks and bookings at St. Mary’s this weekend. Although the statistics suggest that will impact United more, having committed the second-most fouls of any Premier League side this season, Southampton aren’t too behind in the foul charts – fifth – and the dynamics of the match surely leave the home side at a disadvantage. After all, they’ll likely be doing more defending than the Red Devils on Saturday, but any challenges that blur the line of acceptability look set to be clamped down on by Pawson.
Southampton boast a relatively clean bill of health going into the weekend, the only exceptions being striker Charlie Austin (doubt) and youngster Matt Targett, who would only be called upon to start ahead of Ryan Bertrand in an emergency situation anyway. Austin’s potential absence could have an impact considering how much Southampton have struggled for goals this season but the logical assumption is that we’ll see pretty much the same team that beat Crystal Palace last weekend. However, with Virgil van Dijk back in the fold, don’t rule out the possibility of a three-man defence featuring the Dutchman, Maya Yoshida and summer signing Wesley Hoedt.
Manchester United too, are likely to stick with the setup that lead them to victory last time out – although Jose Mourinho may turn back to Daley Blind rather than midfielder Ashley Young for the left-back role away from home. The only significant absence at this point in the season is, of course, central midfielder Paul Pogba who started the campaign in imperious form and provides that physicality Mourinho adores in the engine room. But Marouane Fellaini certainly hasn’t let his side down this season and the United boss will be confident the Belgium international can have a big impact away from home – especially in both penalty boxes.