United take on Southampton on Sunday with a lot of subplots, but most importantly with three points on the line. The Reds hopefully feel they have a point to prove after a roller coaster of a week that saw home victory over Liverpool followed by former Saint Luke Shaw’s injury and capitulation in Eindhoven.
The season series was split last time around, as the two sides played their two fixtures just over a month apart. In the away match, United came out on top – winning their fifth in a row thanks to a Robin van Persie brace. Southampton got their revenge at Old Trafford with Dusan Tadic scoring the lone goal and ending a 10-match unbeaten streak from MUFC.
The south coast club is managed by Louis van Gaal’s former colleague at Barcelona and Ajax – Ronald Koeman. Here’s subplot #1. The two quite famously and publically don’t get on, mainly due to a spat at Ajax when LVG was the sporting director. The final straw came when LVG sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Juventus without the time to get a replacement in. Koeman delivered an ultimatum to the board that came down to ‘it’s either him or me.” The board fired Van Gaal, only for Koeman’s side to slump and see him sacked before the season ended. This is personal, make no mistake.
We know well that Saints are no pushovers when it comes to selling their players, as our recent purchases of Luke Shaw and Morgan Schneiderlin have shown. This season the sales of Schneiderlin and Nate Clyne gave Southampton around £35m to spend, and they brought in a number of players.
As you’d expect, many of the newcomers are Dutch – Virgil van Dijk, Jordy Clasie and on-loan keeper Maarten Stekelenburg. Spaniards Juanmi and Oriol Romeu have also joined, as has Portuguese right-back Cedric Soares.
It’s been an underwhelming start for Southampton so far, with their 6-point total notching them in 11th place in the league. Their only victory to date has come against newly-promoted Norwich City, with draws against Newcastle, Watford and West Brom. They were also soundly beaten 3-0 by Everton.
The United View
This match is a chance for MUFC to make a statement following the events in Eindhoven. Beating a lacklustre Liverpool side was important – but perhaps no great accomplishment in retrospect. Southampton are at home, and Koeman will no doubt want a victory over his rival.
Wayne Rooney is likely to return, perhaps playing in the hole behind Anthony Martial. Most feel that this is Rooney’s best position, so it will be interesting to see if the forwards can get some momentum going.
I’m wondering if Morgan Schneiderlin will play in front of his old supporters after he saw no action during the past week.
Finally, thoughts turn to Luke Shaw – for whom this would have been another homecoming. Some of his teammates have spoken about wanting to win this one for him, and I obviously hope we do. But the trend lately has been for the manager and the players do talk a lot and not get it done on the pitch. This would be a good time for that to change.