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Starting XI: Southampton vs. Manchester United

The Reds travel south to take on one of the Premier League’s most aggressive teams

Aston Villa v Southampton FC - Premier League Photo by Alan Hayward/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Everything that you need to know ahead of Sunday’s match:

(1) After last weekend’s win over West Brom, Manchester United are up to tenth in the Premier League. Not great, but within striking distance of the top four.

(2) Manchester United’s deep-lying midfielders — whether that’s Fred, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matić, Paul Pogba, or Donny van de Beek — will have their hands full with these aggressive Saints. Southampton’s attacking midfielders typically push up into the space in front of the opposition backline (the “red zone” as Ralph Hasenhuttl calls it) looking to slip in the final ball for either Che Adams or Theo Walcott. Van de Beek impressed at the base of midfield in the 4-1 win over Istanbul Basaksehir, but will Ole Gunnar Solskjaer trust the attack-minded youngster against much tougher opposition? The energetic defensive discipline of McTominay might be the safer call, but Solskjaer confirmed that the Scottish midfielder did not train on Friday.

(3) Solskjaer on how two of his summer signings are adjusting to life at Old Trafford:

I think the two of them [Edinson Cavani and Donny van de Beek] are getting used to how we want them to play. Of course, Donny can play in different positions. Edinson is a good old-fashioned No. 9 and we haven’t had that for a little while, and I was very happy with how Anthony [Martial] played off the left hand side again.

(4) The Reds did not emerge from the midweek Champions League win unscathed. Victor Lindelöf, who has struggled with a bad back for weeks, left the match at halftime and Aaron Wan-Bissaka soon followed with an ankle injury. With Phil Jones and Luke Shaw already sidelined for the foreseeable future, the defensive injuries are really starting to pile up. Solskjaer says that pulling Lindelöf and AWB was mostly precautionary, though he’s not sure if either will make the Southampton trip. Paul Pogba, too, remains questionable with his ankle knock, and also missed Friday’s training session.

(5) Thankfully, Alex Telles looks a natural fit in the Manchester United backline. He’s played 90 minutes against both West Brom and Basaksehir this week, proving himself fit as a fiddle after a bout with Covid-19. Depending on the health of the other injured defenders, Solskjaer might even consider a formation tweak for Sunday. Southampton play two forwards up top — in either a 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2 — so this could be an opportunity to switch to three at the back to keep a numerical advantage over the Saints frontline. Of course, Lindelöf’s achy back might scupper that idea.

(6) Southampton have come a long way since last season’s 9-0 humbler against Leicester. Ralph Hasenhuttl used that beatdown as fuel for his chastened players, convincing them to buy into his high-intensity tactics lest they end up on the short end of another rout. Now, his Saints sit fifth in the Premier League, unbeaten in seven matches, and even (briefly) went top before the international break. “If you lose one match 9-0 and you still stay alive, you lose any fear you have,” says Hasenhuttl.

(7) This Southampton side never lets up. They aggressively press high up the pitch, tasking players with winning the ball back immediately after losing possession instead of dropping back into a traditional defensive shape. It’s a high-risk/high-reward style, as a quick pass or two can open up the entire field for easy counterattacks.

(8) In theory, this should play right into Manchester United’s hands. Southampton’s center backs, particularly Jan Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard, have plenty of defensive merit — but without the requisite pace to really thrive playing a high line. Kyle Walker-Peters hands the backline a much-needed speed boost at right back, but the Reds should expect plenty of space to attack on the counter — provided they can pass through the ferocious Southampton press.

(9) Even with Hasenhuttl giving his players four days off over the international break, Southampton appeared to run out of gas against Wolves on Monday night. Theo Walcott fired the Saints into the lead — his first goal since returning to the club on loan — but it didn’t last. Pedro Neto equalized in the 75th minute, forcing Southampton to hang on for dear life as Wolves overran them in the frantic final period. That’s one of the downsides of Southampton’s frenetic style — it’s tough to sustain for 90 minutes.

(10) Hasenhuttl on Nathan Redmond’s hamstring injury:

It will be seven to ten days, so for Sunday [against Manchester United] I don’t think so. It was a small injury, but definitely a hamstring injury. It has not been his best season so far. He has had problems with his body and this is definitely a player that we will miss.

(11) With top scorer Danny Ings sidelined after knee surgery, Che Adams is rounding into form at exactly the right time. It took Adams until his 29th match last season to score his first goal for the club, but he’s already on three goals and three assists in 2020/21. The 24-year-old seems to have finally turned the corner after a very long transition period from the Championship. The other danger-man for Southampton is James Ward-Prowse — particularly on free kicks.