Manchester United return to FA Cup action on Saturday when they travel south to St. Mary's Stadium, to take on Southampton. The two sides met last on 4 January, 2009 in a 3rd round FA Cup match, which resulted in a 3-0 victory for United at St. Mary's. During the current Cup run, United last defeated rival Liverpool 1-0 at Old Trafford a few weeks back in 3rd round action, which sets up a tilt with Southampton who defeated Blackpool in the same round. However, Blackpool manager Ian Holloway played his reserves, which largely contributed to the League One side "giant-killing" a Premier League foe.
Southampton currently sit 4th in the table in League One, which puts them in contention for promotion to the Championship. They are 2nd in both goal differential and goals against, and they've earned 7 wins, 4 draws, and suffered 3 losses in matches at St. Mary's. Historically, 'The Saints' are a well supported side, and they were founding members of the Premier League in 1992-93. They spent 27 consecutive years in top-flight English football, before being relegated to the Championship in 2005. In 2009, the League One promotion hopefuls were handed a 10 point deduction, following financial woes resulting from their parent company going into administration. This penalty ensured that Southampton were to be relegated once more, from the Championship to League One.
Southampton's 17-year old midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is one to watch, as the starlet has been linked to Arsenal, Fulham, and United during the current transfer window. Midfielders Dean Hammond and Adam Lallana have injury concerns, and both are nearing closer to returning. Their availability for Saturday's game is uncertain. Striker Richard Lambert and Lallana are The Saints' leading goal scorers, with 9 netted apiece. Lallana leads them with 8 assists.
With United's mid-week cracker at Blackpool and with an upcoming mid-week league match versus Aston Villa, I fully expect Sir Alex Ferguson to rest most of his regulars. Rafael is definitely out due to the concussion he suffered at Blackpool. Rio Ferdinand is still recovering from a nagging groin injury and likely will be out as well. Legends Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs figure to be rested, as the former just returned from injury and the latter has been logging heavy minutes with the absence of Park Ji-Sung and Antonio Valencia. Michael Carrick's status is uncertain from his leg being stomped during the match versus Birmingham City. This might be the match where we see the debut of goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, as either he or Tomasz Kuszczak are likely to be called upon.
Once again, lineups are difficult to guess, especially for a match such as this. I haven't seen Southampton play, but judging by football-lineup's database, they appear to line up in a '4-4-2.' If Lallana can't go on the left flank, then either Ryan Dickson or Jason Puncheon are possibilities. If Hammond can't go, Morgan Schneiderlin is the likely deputy. Bebe is a complete guess, as it's possible the experiment with him as a wide player may be over for the moment. Nani has logged many minutes recently and his availability is uncertain, despite his youth. The other possibility to compensate for lack of depth in wide players is a '4-3-3/4-5-1' hybrid, which would put 3 central midfielders on the pitch. I'll edit this as news comes, but here's my lineup guess for the moment...
United (4-4-2): Lindegaard, Fabio-Evans-Smalling-O'Shea, Obertan-Anderson-Gibson-Bebe, Owen-Chicharito
Southampton (4-4-2): Davis, Dickson-Fonte-Jaidi-Richardson, Lallana-Hammond-Chaplow-Oxlade Chamberlain, Do Pardo-Lambert
* Odds: Manchester United 1.47, Southampton 8.4, Draw 5.1
* Prediction: Southampton 1-3 Manchester United
*EDIT* van der Sar is not making the trip south, Ferdinand (groin) and Rafael ruled out (concussion) due to injury, Evra unavailable due to 'family bereavement,' Park still out due to Asian Cup, and Carrick doubtful with his ankle injury.