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Looking Ahead: Southampton

Manchester United v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Manchester United have their first win of the Erik ten Hag era.

The team will certainly be in better spirits after beating Liverpool in a much needed energized display at Old Trafford on Monday, but the challenge again remains whether they can keep up that energy and put a good run of form together.

Their next test is a trip to St. Mary’s to face Southampton, a team many expect to be in the relegation scrap, but have shown some fire since their poor opening weekend performance.

Here’s a look at the matchup this Saturday.

Opposition Strength

Southampton’s biggest strength is that no matter how relegation doomed their squad may look they are quite good at finding their way out of such dangers. They’re very organized, particularly against stronger opponents.

Last season Manchester United drew with Southampton twice, 1-1 scorelines each time. On both occasions United struggled to outmatch the Saints despite having the better opportunities on the ball. The Saints press well, can capitalize on chances even when limited, and are all bought in.

So far this season, they’ve been flexible as well.

They lined up in a 5-3-2 formation against Tottenham on opening day, and were thoroughly beaten 4-1 despite a strong start. They recovered in a 2-2 draw with a half-decent Leeds side, lining up in more of a 3-4-3 style, and beat Leicester City with a 4-2-3-1 setup. So it’s safe to assume that flexibility could continue against United, who will be expected to have more of the possession.

United showed some flexibility of their own against Liverpool, but with a new signing in midfield and a hopefully re-energized squad, Ralph Hasenhüttl will probably expect them to try and play Erik ten Hag ball again. They’ll look to press high and win the ball in dangerous areas, which means Casemiro and the back line’s possession under pressure will be tested.

Manchester United Tactical Preview (Pauly)

Following his 45 minute appearance against Liverpool Anthony Martial was a lock to start this match. That is until we found out on Friday he picked up an achilles injury and would be unavailable. Injuries right when he hits form have always been Martial’s Achilles heel (horrible pun intended).

Without Martial it’s anyone’s guess how Erik Ten Hag will approach this match. The likely outcome is Anthony Elanga retains his place on the left wing with Marcus Rashford up front. The idea being let United’s forward line press and work and if you still need a goal with 20 minutes to go, you can bring on Cristiano Ronaldo against tired legs.

The caveat here is, you aren’t going to be able to play the same way you played against Liverpool against Southampton. The Saints are a team that don’t like to have the ball. They’re likely to play it long and let United work it out from the back, where they can launch their outside press.

That takes you to midfield. Casemiro is a lock to start. Casemiro is a defensive wizard who is better in possession than given credit for, but still his game has always been the pretty simple win the ball back then quickly get it to one of the passers in midfield (typically Luka Modric or Tony Kroos). Think Nemanja Matic during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s interim period winning the ball pack and then just quickly giving it to Paul Pogba, but with a lot more mobility.

Who’s going to be that passer? That’s the million dollar question. Logic says it’ll be Christian Eriksen, but Eriksen looked completely knackered in the second half of Monday’s match against Liverpool. He probably needs a break, especially with United having three games over the next nine days.

The next logical choice would be Casemiro’s midfield partner for Brazil, Fred. The risk here is Southampton can quickly make it look like last season’s 1-1 draw at Saint Mary’s. Southampton forced the ball wide to United’s fullbacks, then used the touchline to trap them on the outside, leaving the middle - and Fred - wide open, challenging Fred to move the ball effectively and pull the strings for United. We know that is the weakest part of Fred’s game, and he struggled there just two weeks ago against Brighton.

Southampton are a team in flux. Their coach has good ideas but is saddled with players who just aren’t good and not capable of playing the type of football he wants. They could easily lay an egg, they could also be just organized enough to give this current United team plenty of problems.


Southampton 1-1 Manchester United

I mean, if the last two fixtures are any indication...

I expect United will be more motivated after their win over Liverpool. That doesn’t always translate to success though, as we’ve learned the hard way after United get wins against big opponents. They not only have to start carrying momentum under new management, they also have to implement his system effectively and break in new signings. The process continues, and while it’s not impossible to see United come in and thrash the Saints, it does seem unlikely unless someone is sent off in the opening minutes and opens the way for a 9-0.

Plus my jinx of Liverpool in my prediction worked last week, so why not ride it?