Two teams who have been enduring rather than enjoying their seasons up to this point come face to face at St Mary’s this weekend, as the Saints receive Manchester United in the Saturday evening game. Former Old Trafford idol Mark Hughes will be hoping that his old club continue in the same vein of League form that saw them comfortably held to a 0-0 home draw by Crystal Palace last weekend, because if the Southampton need to overcome an in-form United side, things could get ugly.
If United’s experience last weekend was chastening, then there are no words for the Saints’ 3-2 loss at Fulham, in which they let a lead slip against the Premier League’s worst defence. That result drew Southampton into the bottom three, and the evidence of the season so far suggests that it’s a position they deserve to be in. A tenacious end to last season kept Southampton in the top flight and earned Hughes a long-term contract. At this moment, it looks like relegation would have been a blessing in disguise.
Southampton vs Manchester United Prediction: Southampton 1-2 Manchester United
It’s hard to put a finger directly on why Southampton have been so bad this season. Their defence is ropey without being shambolic, while their attack is underpowered but not exactly “Huddersfield” bad. The real issue seems to be that it’s hard to see what Hughes’ side are good at. Their approach is workmanlike, but without ever seeming to get the job done. In many ways, it’s probably what United would look like without the stellar individuals – the likes of Rashford, Martial and Mata. It’s the presence of those star players that should see the visitors pick up three points here.
Our recommended tip: Martial First Goal
Manchester United have rarely hit the heights in any meaningful way this season but, when they have picked up wins, French attacker Martial is normally involved – usually as a goalscorer. With star striker Romelu Lukaku underperforming, much of the slack has fallen to the underused Martial. A more permanent place in the side is really the least that he deserves, but he’d settle for getting on the scoresheet again – something he’s more than capable of doing against the struggling Saints, and he’s generously priced at 5/1 (6.00) with BetBright.
Anyone watching this match will be dearly hoping that there is more action in the 90 minutes here than was seen across the entire 180 that the sides played last season. They met at the end of last December at Old Trafford, and said goodbye to 2017 with a dire 0-0 draw.
The match at St Mary’s three months prior was only marginally better, enlivened after 20 minutes by a Romelu Lukaku goal and nothing else. That’s the only goal to have been scored in the last three matches between these clubs, so we can only hope that things pick up this evening.
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Players to watch: Stuart Armstrong & Marouane Fellaini
As poor as Southampton’s showing at Craven Cottage may have been, it would have been a lot worse had it not been for the fine individual performance of former Celtic midfielder Armstrong. Well-timed runs from midfield, finished off with powerful strikes, it looks like the Saints have found another gem via their scouting system of going to Celtic Park every so often, pointing at someone and saying “Him!”. Well, it worked with Virgil Van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster, after all.
United were mere moments away from following last weekend’s Palace debacle with another 0-0 draw at home to Young Boys in the midweek Champions League fixture. It took a timely intervention from Fellaini to deliver a 1-0 win. One of the few players at the club to be largely well-regarded by Mourinho, the Belgian may not be graceful, but he can be immensely effective. He might well be just the player to settle a tetchy December battle between two underperforming sides.