On Wednesday, Manchester United celebrated a new club record of eight consecutive away wins. At home, though, it’s been a different story. The Reds last won at Old Trafford on January 19, dropping points in recent weeks to Burnley and Liverpool. Plus, the Champions League loss to Paris Saint-Germain. Tough competition, to be sure, but United must get back to winning ways on home turf.
Their next chance comes Saturday against Southampton. United remain fifth in the Premier League after a midweek win at Crystal Palace, although they actually lost a bit of ground to Arsenal in the GD department. Southampton, meanwhile, enter Old Trafford high on confidence after a 2-0 win over Fulham.
With that win in a true relegation six-pointer, the Saints took a massive step towards safety. Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has done a solid job since replacing Mark Hughes in December, guiding his club out of the drop zone with five wins. And Wednesday’s was the biggest of them all.
“It was very professional from our team today,” Hasenhuttl said afterwards. “We put a little bit more experience on the pitch — it was clear [Fulham] were coming here looking at their last chance to come closer to us. Although they had more ball possession, I think we defended very, very concentrated. It was a clinical, professional performance.”
If lowly Fulham managed to control possession against Southampton, expect United to do the same. Whoever Ole Gunnar Solskjaer selects up top should get plenty of chances in front of goal.
Both Hasenhuttl and Solskjaer share a common problem — injuries. For the Saints, forwards Danny Ings and Michael Obafemi are sidelined, with Obafemi actually ruled out for the rest of the season with a severe hamstring injury. In a disappointing season for Southampton, the 18-year-old Obafemi stood out as the clear bright spot. Now, he’ll miss out on valuable development time, as well as leaving the team shorthanded in attack.
“It’s been a disaster for us,” Hasenhuttl said. “Nathan Redmond is the only person who really scores at the moment and if he has Danny Ings or Michael Obafemi, it’s not easy to defend against.”
On Wednesday, Southampton got a big boost from midfield. Goals from Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse handed the Saints all three points and lifted them into seventeenth place. Charlie Austin partnered Redmond up top, although they’ve combined for just one league goal so far in 2019.
Manchester United also secured a big midweek victory in trying circumstances. Missing half of his first-choice players, Solskjaer coaxed strong performances out of his backups en route to a 3-1 win at Crystal Palace.
Romelu Lukaku nabbed a brace, lifting his season total to 11 goals. He’s obviously taken a step backwards after his record-breaking debut total of 27 goals, but there’s still time for Lukaku to salvage his second season in red. And, with all of the club’s frontline injuries, getting Big Rom going could make a huge difference.
“They were very good finishes from Romelu,” Solskjaer said. “The first one was with his right foot. The second one, he’s had a lot to do there and a great finish, so I’m very pleased for Romelu. He’s played wide-right, wide-left. He's worked a lot defensively for us and, this time, he got the number 9 shirt and got some good goals.”
Whether he gets another chance as #9, though, depends on Marcus Rashford’s recovery. Rashford made the bench at Crystal Palace just days after suffering an ankle injury against Liverpool, coming on for the last thirteen minutes. It’s too soon to tell whether Marcus will be passed fit for a full ninety this weekend. No word either on Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Ander Herrera, or Juan Mata.
Youth movement: 17-year-old James Garner made his senior debut at Selhurst Park, Tahith Chong was named to the bench, and Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood traveled with the squad. Even with Rashford’s quick recovery, there's still a great chance that at least one of the academy boys will make the squad this weekend.
No matter who plays, Manchester United cannot squander this opportunity to jump back into the Premier League’s top four. Southampton got a big win this weekend and will be bursting with confidence, but should still be easily beaten by the Reds. Plus, Arsenal travel to Wembley for the North London derby on Saturday and could easily drop points. There won’t be many better chances this season to jump the Gunners.