Manchester United travel to Southampton on Sunday in the Premier League. It will be United’s first away of the new season with full capacity crowds, and Southampton’s first home game in front of their fans. Ole Gunnar Solskjær talked up the atmosphere awaiting United at St Mary’s in his Friday press conference and it will be a treat for both sets of supporters.
Southampton lost 3-1 to Everton last weekend, and have a midweek cup fixture with Newport County next week to navigate. United, meanwhile, thrashed Leeds 5-1 at Old Trafford on the opening day and will be looking to take maximum points again this weekend.
After the Saints, a visit to Wolves is up next for United before a two-week international break. Then a relatively kind run of league fixtures in September, too, albeit with the Champions League group stage commencing. It represents a ripe period for Solskjær and his squad, having had something resembling a proper preseason this year, to put down an early marker in the league. Especially before heading into October and November when United face Everton, Leicester, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Watford, Chelsea, and then Arsenal.
Solskjaer wouldn't confirm in his press conference if Sancho or Varane will start on Sunday. Said they've both 'worked well' this week. Squad as a whole has had 'very good week.' Cavani back in training and Henderson is working hard in the gym. #mufc— Charlotte Duncker (@CharDuncker) August 20, 2021
David de Gea
How fortunate David de Gea is to currently be United’s first choice goalkeeper remains to be seen. But it’s a remarkable turnaround from the position De Gea found himself in last season, with Dean Henderson looking like he’d ousted the Spaniard, though it all feels rather temporary. Regardless, De Gea has the opportunity to remind everyone why he’s been at the club for a decade while Henderson desperately gets himself back fit. Presumably, De Gea wouldn’t mind a few matches with a Raphaël Varane and Harry Maguire pairing in front of him.
The United captain looks like he’s enjoying his football at the moment – not just because of a new set piece coach – and Maguire has the prospect of forging a partnership with Varane to look forward to soon. What a difference a year makes. That new relationship may not begin at Southampton on Sunday but, whenever it does, you can imagine Maguire’s level will increase with Varane over time. Maguire was comfortable and authoritative with Victor Lindelöf against Leeds and will happily make do until Solskjær deems Varane ready.
United had two new faces to show off last weekend, though only one in the squad, and largely relied upon last season’s usual suspects arranged in the usual places. This meant both Fred and Scott McTominay started, and both much-maligned players played well. McTominay was a complete nuisance for Leeds, aggressive on the ball, and made a solid early case to be the preferred other midfielder for when the time comes to move Paul Pogba.
Solskjær: "We gave him [Pogba] the freedom of roaming wherever you want to go and get on the ball." #mulive [bt]— utdreport (@utdreport) August 14, 2021
Pogba quickly adopted the floating role finding space much deeper orchestrating United’s attacks. Pogba was sensational, chalking up four assists without too much bother. At some point, however, Marcus Rashford returns and, more pressingly, Jadon Sancho, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani will want to be involved. Pogba’s days starting wide left are numbered, thankfully, whether that is to move back into a two or three in midfield. In any case, there will only be one spot for McTominay or Fred, or Nemanja Matić if he hasn’t peaked too early in preseason.
What is there to say about this man that hasn’t been said already? Unfathomable numbers for United and managed to overshadow Pogba and Mason Greenwood against Leeds with, remarkably, his first hat-trick for the Reds. It’s a relief to see Bruno Fernandes rested, in sparkling form, and no less hungry. Would not sit down at an Uno table with him.
The clamour for Jadon Sancho to start on Sunday will be strong, and there’s a space wide right for him as Greenwood continues to ably spearhead United’s attack. Greenwood had chance to further learn the ropes of leading the forward line towards the end of last season, along with notable periods on the right while Cavani grabbed the headlines.
Greenwood’s composed performance against Leeds, including his well-taken goal at a pivotal stage of the match, will have pleased his manager as much as other standouts. No longer under the radar, Greenwood is set for a starring role despite the pressure and competition for places.