Friday, 29 December 2017

Match preview: United v Southampton

After a disappointing festive schedule so far, United welcome Mauricio Pellegrino's out of form Southampton side to Old Trafford for our final fixture of 2017. The Reds were forced to settle for a pair of 2-2 draws against Leicester and Burnley over Christmas, conceding a late equaliser in the former before Jesse Lingard's late leveller in the latter last time out.

The Reds would have targeted this pivotal point of the season to pull back some points on runaway leaders City, but instead a return of eight points from a possible 15 has seen City only extend their advantage further. With a yawning chasm of 15 points to Pep Guardiola's men, United's title hopes look realistically (if not mathematically) over. Saints are one of a number of sides in the bottom half looking nervously over their shoulders, and arrive at OT winless in seven and sit only two points clear of the drop zone having won only four times all term. Argentinian boss Pellegrino, who replaced Claude Puel in the summer, has come under pressure which only increased after their 5-2 defeat to Spurs at Wembley in their last fixture. United secured a hard-fought 1-0 away win in the reverse fixture at St Mary's in September through a Romelu Lukaku header. 

Centre-back Virgil Van Dijk has ended long-running speculation  over his future and will seal his record £75m move to Liverpool on New Year's Day. How the south coast side spend the money will be key as they look to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle. United, meanwhile, have defensive problems of their own. Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian will all miss out, with Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Anthony Martial also sidelined having missed the Boxing Day draw. Despite a fifth booking of the season against the Clarets, Marcos Rojo is available and could feature. Charlie Austin (suspended), Cedric (ankle) and Ryan Bertrand (hamstring) are unavailable for Southampton. 

Despite the indifferent results, Jose praised the efforts of his players and Lukaku, who he said is tired. 
The boss explained: "I think we played very well in both Christmas matches, the frustration is big because we had good performances but we made mistakes which cost us points in both. 
"We played very offensive, in a creative way with freedom for the players - we didn't score enough goals in relation to the chances we had. 
"Romelu (Lukaku) is incredible, I think for any player to play 90 minutes in 20 Premier League matches is amazing - he is physically a monster but not a machine and he is feeling it.
"The guy is fantastic for me and he needs a little rest but I cannot because Zlatan is a man who is not at his top level." 

It's a quick turnaround for the team as we begin 2018 with a difficult trip to rejuvenated Everton 48 hours after the full-time whistle against Saints. 

Form guide: United L W W L D D Southampton D D L L D L 
Match odds: United 4/11 Draw 15/4 Southampton 17/2
Referee: Craig Pawson (Sheffield)

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