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Match Preview: Manchester United vs. Southampton

Manchester United will look to continue their recent renaissance at home to Southampton on Saturday.

Alex Broadway/Getty Images

Manchester United have fluked three wins from their last four matches in all competitions, and have moved within two points of a Champions League spot in this quite ridiculous Premier League season. Louis van Gaal's side will look to continue the momentum generated by last week's last-gasp win over Liverpool with a victory at home to Southampton on Saturday, as the Dutchman once again locks horns with his old rival Ronald Koeman.

Southampton have had a rather peculiar season so far, and still no one seems quite sure of whether or not they're actually any good. Between November and December the Saints went on a terrible run in which they lost five of their six matches, though bounced back with a 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal on Boxing Day. Defeats to West Ham and Norwich followed, but they head into this match on the back of successive clean-sheet victories over Watford and West Brom. It's any guess which team will turn up.

Team news

A serious groin injury means Ashley Young is added to United's list of long-term layoffs, which currently includes Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo. Antonio Valencia should soon be back available after making his return to training, but this game will come too soon. Michael Carrick, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Phil Jones are also out.

Southampton head into this match with a full-strength team available. Jay Rodriguez is still out injured, though given he's made only two league starts for the club since April 2014, he can't really be classed as a major concern. Romanian mystery man Florin Gardoș is also still sidelined with a serious knee injury, while backup goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg is a doubt.

Tactics

Despite Southampton's patchy form, there's no doubt that they're a capable team with some very good players. Perhaps surprisingly, given their reputation as one of the Premier League's prettier teams, they haven't tended to dominate possession so far this season: averaged only the 10th-highest possession percentage in the league. even more interestingly, their pass completion is lower than the likes of Bournemouth, Stoke and Aston Villa. They're in some ways the antithesis to United, in that they're reasonably direct and not afraid to take risks.

Where do those risks come from? Often out wide, with Steven Davis and Matt Targett likely to start on the wings in this match. Their full-backs, Cédric Soares and Ryan Bertand, are also attack-minded, and United's defence can expect to have to deal with plenty of crosses into the area. Even so, their star man is undoubtedly United target Sadio Mané, who has been shifted inside from his position on the wing. He's a brililantly tenacious player, who's nippy with the ball and is excellent at playing the key pass. Morgan Schneiderlin will have to be on his game against his former club.

They're also a threat on set-pieces: only Tottenham Hotspur have scored more times from dead-ball situations this season. However, it remains to be seen whether the aerially-excellent Graziano Pellè will be given a start up top, or whether the en vogue Shane Long will be given the nod instead. The latter's less clinical but considerably more industrious, and so a valuable asset in a high-pressing team.

The downside (or for opponents, the upside), is that Southampton ship a lot of goals, as well as score them. Despite the impressive technical quality of their full-backs, they're vulnerable to leaving space in behind for teams to counter-attack into. Midfielder James Ward-Prowse is also a fine passer but not a particularly good defender, meaning the workload on anchorman Victor Wanyama is high. They're almost certainly going to make life difficult for United, but they're far from unbeatable.

Predicted lineups

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David de Gea; Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian; Morgan Schneiderlin, Marouane Fellaini; Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata; Wayne Rooney.

Southampton (4-2-3-1): Fraser Forster; Ryan Bertrand, Virgil van Dijk, José Fonte, Cédric Soares; James Ward-Prowse, Victor Wanyama; Matt Targett, Sadio Mané, Steven Davis; Shane Long.