Manchester United welcome Southampton to the Theatre of Dreams in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon. United hit back from their 7-0 humiliation to Liverpool last weekend with a 4-1 victory over Real Betis in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg on Thursday evening. Marcus Rashford, Antony, Bruno Fernandes and Wout Weghorst all scored the goals in that match which gives United a three goal cushion in the second leg in Spain next week.
United sit in third place in the Premier League ahead of this weekends fixtures; four points ahead of fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur and seven points ahead of fifth placed Liverpool – both team play on Saturday with Liverpool facing Bournemouth and Spurs facing Nottingham Forest but neither can dislodge United from their position and United have a game in hand over Spurs, so they will be able to extend their lead at some point in the not too distant future.
Southampton sit in 19th place in the Premier League ahead of this match and will need wins to get out of the bottom three. That said, the bottom nine teams in the league are all at risk this season with six points from bottom to 12th so time will tell who can escape from the relegation zone this season. The Saints are heavily at risk because of their -21 goal difference. Bottom club Bournemouth have a -27 and Forest have a -24 – but they are five point better off.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Martinez, Shaw;
Pellistri, Weghorst, Garnacho;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea has largely been a positive for United this season but has suffered a few problems whereby he has not been able to stop the goals from going in. It happens to every goalkeeper at some point in their career. His United career is coming to an end this summer with his contract ending but rumours suggest that he could sign under new terms but United are also interested in recruiting a new goalkeeper. Tom Heaton’s contract is coming to an end too.
Jack Butland, who is yet to feature for United, will head back to Crystal Palace at the end of the season and Dean Henderson, currently injured but on loan at Nottingham Forest, is going to be spoken to about his future with his contract due to expire at the end of the 2024/25 season. Some changes will come for United this summer and United will head into a new era – hopefully with the ownership changing. De Gea could be part of that, maybe as a backup goalkeeper.
For now though, United must rely on De Gea for remainder of the season as he is the better of the three goalkeepers at the club. Butland may improve but he has not played a football match for a long period of time and it would be a massive gamble to start him in goal for United – especially at an important time. De Gea is not a terrible goalkeeper but there are some factors of his game that require improvement – just like other top goalkeepers out there – none are perfect.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Martinez, Shaw
United’s defence had a tough week last week. The seven conceded goals against Liverpool were the major part of that problem and the players came back from that with a 4-1 victory over Real Betis in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg. United were unable to keep a clean sheet but that was not the end of the world. United just needed to win and they will take a three-goal lead to Spain next week, which gives them a good chance of reaching the next round.
Diogo Dalot started against Betis but Aaron Wan-Bissaka came on at the start of the second half, doing a much better job. He seems to have come back from being out in the cold where Erik ten Hag took over United to now the first-choice right-back at the club. He needs to start this match to keep him up to speed. In the left-back role, Luke Shaw started against Betis by Tyrell Malacia finished on the pitch. Shaw should start against his former club – he will want that.
In the centre of the defence, I think Ten Hag will make at least one change. It would be too much of a risk to make two changes as Southampton will not turn up at Old Trafford like they have turned up against other clubs recently. I think Rahpael Varane will be the player to be rested with Harry Maguire replacing him – he will want to get more minutes on the pitch. Lisandro Martines will keep his place and continue in the centre of the defence against Southampton.
Midfield: Casemiro, Fred
The midfield for United is a positive this season but with Donny van de Beek and Christian Eriksen on the sidelines through injury has left United with fewer options. Marcel Sabitzer was missing for the 4-1 victory over Betis on Thursday evening and he is a doubt for this match. Casemiro overcame an injury scare ahead of the Betis match, which was a good thing, meaning he should be fit to start this match too. That said, he may not play the full match as he will need a rest.
The Brazilian will probably start alongside compatriot Fred once again, which is a good mix for United but the duo would not be a regular fixture together if more midfielders were fit. It is probably the best option for United at this time as Casemiro is the player who can inspire this team to push for a victory. There have been some off matches for him, but that was always going to be a factor as not one player can put in 100% all of the time. United’s midfield is positive.
Fred is the type of player who can be hot and cold. He had found the back of the net six times this season, getting three more assists which has got to be his best season so far at United. Scott McTominay and Sabitzer, if he is fit, could come on later in the match to see United through, which could be a factor with Casemiro likely to need a rest at some point despite the international break coming up after these next three matches. United will prevail in the end.
Attacking Midfield: Pellistri, Weghorst, Garnacho
United have many different players who will be pushing to get on the pitch more this season. The likes of Antony, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford tend to be the main players in these roles with Alejandro Garnacho also getting some appearances at stages of the season. United have quality in other players and it might well be time to test the strength of those players against Southampton, seeing what can be gained from utilising them.
United have played 43 matches so far this season and Fernandes has played in all but two, so will need a rest to keep him fresh for what is yet to come this season. He is a player that has striven to guide United to victories time and time again, collecting a lot of criticism on the way. Against the Saints, I think he could be on the bench just in case United need to bring in the big guns. Facundo Pellistri has shown promise when coming on and could have earned a start.
Wout Weghorst has been playing in the number ten role of late and he will keep his place against Southampton, fresh from scoring his second goal for United which was a long time coming despite him trying a lot to get that goal. His work rate is massively underrated by supporters of the club who seem to judge for a lack of goals. Garnacho should also start as he has done a lot so far this season with his four goals and four assists. Pellistri has just one assist so far.
Marcus Rashford has been the player with the plaudits for United this season. He won the Premier League Player of the Month for February, which was well deserved for the England forward. He has played as the main striker in recent matches, which saw him score his 26th goal of the season against Betis and he will be seeking to score more as he looks to challenge the likes of Erling Haaland and Harry Kane to win the golden boot this season, which probably won’t happen.
Rashford is the best player to be leading the line at the moment whilst Weghorst builds up his confidence as everything else has been so positive for him. He has started every match for United since arriving at the Theatre of Dreams and in terms of doing everything he could to score a goal – that is exactly what he has done and will continue to do for the remainder of the season. That hard work is keeping him in the squad as that is the mentality needed for United.
Anthony Martial is back in training and could well have some involvement in this match and providing he does, he will need to manage his fitness as his availability this season has been terrible with injury after injury. The writing is on the wall for the Frenchman, which is a shame as he has been a positive player for United at times but consistent injuries and a lack of much happening for him has led to this. United need a better striker and need to move on.
Substitutes: Heaton; Varane, Dalot; Fernandes, Sabitzer, McTominay; Martial, Antony, Sancho
Ten Hag will have nine players on the bench in the Premier League with the ability to use five of them throughout the match. With De Gea expected to continue starting for United, despite the number of matches already played, it will leave Tom Heaton on the bench with Jack Butland still yet to be tested for United. That could happen at a poi t where United have done what they needed to do in the league and the cup competitions they are still playing in.
In defence, United could have Raphael Varane and Diogo Dalot to utilise should they need to – they could also see the likes of Victor Lindelof and Tyrell Malacia but I think with just two defenders on the bench, United will be in good hands. In the midfield, Bruno Fernandes, Marcel Sabitzer (if fit) and Scott McTominay could add something. United could do a job without the star players on the pitch, which would be a good test but they will be there if needed.
In attack, United could have Anthony Martial (if fit), Antony and Jadon Sancho to common to change the match if that is required. I fully expect Southampton to raise their game against United as that is something they tend to always do, negating to do it in the majority of the other 36 matches they will play in the Premier League, which is why they tend to struggle and have to fight to get out of the relegation zone towards the end of the season. United should get the win though.
Written by John Walker