Southampton vs Manchester United
Southampton play hosts to Manchester United at St Mary’s Stadium in the Premier League’s Monday night match, hoping to avoid slipping to their third consecutive defeat that would allow their visitors to leapfrog them into third place in the table.
Under the guidance of Ronald Koeman, the Saints have enjoyed unprecedented success in the opening months of the season, but many of their doubters have been waiting for the wheels to come off when they faced sterner opposition. There could be fewer sterner tests than facing Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs in the space of just eight days, and Koeman will be disappointed not to have emerged from the first two of those challenges with as much as a point or a single goal to their credit. His hitherto watertight defence was found wanting last Sunday, and while they might have preventing the dangerous Sergio Aguero from finding the net himself, they could not stop his trickery and flair providing the assists for all three of City’s goals. The trip to the Emirates on Wednesday produced a better performance, but ultimately the same result, with Koeman perhaps unfortunate in losing Toby Alderweireld to a hamstring injury after already having used all his substitutes. Those final tired minutes with ten men proved to be the tipping point for the Saint’s overworked defence, finally succumbing to a solitary close-range Sanchez strike. Koeman is now left counting the cost of an injury list that also includes Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin, while playmaker Dusan Tadic might also struggle to shake off a knock that caused him to withdraw on the hour mark. Koeman will also hope for a return to form of his Italian striker, Graziano Pelle, who missed a golden chance to break the deadlock at the Emirates, and who has not scored in the league since his brace in the 8-0 romp against Sunderland in mid-October.
Koeman’s counterpart and compatriot, Louis Van Gaal, is faced with similar problems coming into this game. Already deprived of the services of Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Rafael and Phil Jones, he now has doubts over the fitness of Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria. The Argentinian lasted just fourteen minutes of the 3-0 win over Hull City last weekend before limping off with a hamstring strain, causing him to miss the midweek win over Stoke, and this game could well come too soon for him. Rooney was absent for the Stoke clash also, needing a scan on a knee complaint that will need assessing over the weekend. United with Rooney is always better than without, but United seem to be hitting the kind of form that can produce results no matter who is on the pitch. Their 3-0 win over Hull was as comfortable as they have looked all season, and while they had some last-minute heroics from David De Gea and Ashley Young to thank for preserving their 2-1 lead over Stoke on Tuesday, the fact remains that they have now only lost once (1-0 in the Manchester derby) in their nine games since the nightmare they endured in the second half at Leicester in September. This might not be the United we remember from Fergie’s heyday, but four straight wins and just two goals conceded indicates that the players are finally beginning to respond to Van Gaal, and vice versa.