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Scouting The Opposition: Manchester United v Southampton – Premier League 2016/17

Southampton is a conundrum of a club. Every year they seem to lose their best players and their manager every other season, yet despite this they continue to perform and improve as a club, even finishing sixth last season, just one place behind Manchester United. This summer hasn’t been any different for The Saints as Saido Mane, Graziano Pelle, Victor Wanyama and even manager Ronald Koeman left the club. Now they have to adapt to a new manager and new philosophy, but many predict that this season will be a stretch too far for The Saints, yet that has been said every year since they were promoted. I don’t expect them to continue their upward trajectory this season and think they will get lost in the shuffle of  the mid-table this season.

Manager: Claude Puel

When Ronald Koeman left Southampton to join Everton in the summer, The Saints were tasked with replacing an exciting young manager who left the club to join a Premier League rival for the second time in three years. Claude Puel was the man appointed to the Southampton hot seat on a three-year deal, after leading French club OCG Nice to a fourth place finish in Ligue 1 last season. The appointment of Puel could be another shrewd move on the part of Southampton, or the Frenchman could flop as this is the first time that he finds himself managing outside of his home nation where he has only ever won Ligue 1 once, managing the only professional club he played for; Monaco back in 1999.

Form Guide:

Southampton 1-0 Wigan Athletic

Southampton 1-1 Watford

Key Man: Shane Long

Shane Long isn’t the most spectacular footballer in the world, but since making the switch from Hull City to St Mary’s in 2014 he has certainly been an impressive acquisition for The Saints. Long is your typical ‘no nonsense” striker whose main aim is getting the ball into the back of the net. Long found the back of the net 10 times in 28 Premier League games last season, made even more impressive due to the fact that he only featured once for The Saint’s from the end of August until the middle of November. Long was also able to show his talents off at Euro 2016, however, he failed to score in the four appearances he made for the Republic of Ireland. Long is deceptively quick for the striker, and will pose a threat to the United defence on the counter-attack, potentially targeting Daley Blind due to the speed advantage he holds over the Dutchman.

Predicted XI:

I fully expect Southampton to continue to use the 4-3-1-2 formation which we saw used to great effect against Watford last Saturday. The pace of Nathan Redmond and Shane Long will continue to be a threat on the counter-attack, whilst the use of a three-man midfield should allow The Saints to dominate possession of the ball and dictate the pace of the game. Dusan Tadic will hope to play in-between the lines and feed the ball through to the two quicksilver forwards, Tadic was Man of the Match last time out for Southampton, so will hope to have an equally impressive performance against The Reds come Friday night.

Score Prediction: 

Manchester United 2-0 Southampton

I don’t expect this to be a thrilling game, but the firepower of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata should be enough to overcome the Southampton defence, especially with continued speculation over the future of Jose Fonte, who is being linked with a move to The Theatre of Dreams. Southampton dominated possession against Watford, overloading the midfield with the 4-3-1-2 formation, having 24 shots in total, but I don’t think they’ll be allowed to hold such a tight grip on the game come Friday night, especially with Paul Pogba being expected to make his 2nd debut in a United shirt. The most expensive footballer in the world certainly won’t be fazed by his price tag, but he will want to impress his home crowd, and the easiest way to do that will be to dominate the play and potentially pop up with a goal.

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