Before the last weekend of Premier League football kicks off, a few teams have some catching up to do and this week, we will see ten teams in action before the final game week on Sunday. From Chelsea hosting Watford on Monday night to Leicester hosting Spurs on Thursday, there is a lot of action coming up mid-week. Right in the middle of that action, Southampton host Manchester United at St. Mary’s on Wednesday night in what some people might say is a slightly unwanted fixture.
Southampton have little more than pride to play for in their last two games. Even if they win in these two games, they will end up with their lowest points tally in last four seasons. If they do not, they might slip down from ninth to a couple of places lower in the table. That might make it a bit difficult for Claude Puel to continue in his job but for the club it will not be a major shock. A win against United, followed up by a win on Sunday against Stoke will get Saints to 51 points and most possibly eighth position, which to be fair to Puel is not terribly bad for a team that has its stars regularly plucked out by bigger teams in the league and that reached the final of the League Cup earlier in the season. But with fans’ aspirations far higher, especially after last two seasons, it will not be a surprise if Puel is replaced. Irrespective of his future, it will take a special effort from him to motivate his players for these last two games.
For the visitors – Manchester United, it seems that the manager Jose Mourinho has already given up on motivating his players for the remaining league matches. He said as much after his team’s second successive loss in the league. After the Spurs match on Sunday, he said, “…for us, the Premier League is just matches we don’t want to play.” That was an interesting quote from Mourinho as his team played fairly well against Spurs and with a bit of luck could have come away with a point at least. But the manager made it clear that he believes that Manchester United are just going through the motions in the league or perhaps it was one of his many mind games. He knows that United’s sixth position in the league is secure and there is no incentive for him to get his players exhausted or injured in the last two league matches. But then, for a team of United’s ability, even going through the motions could mean grabbing a point or two at least.
- Southampton are winless in their last five home Premier League games against the Red Devils, losing four of those by a single goal margin (D1). In fact, Manchester United have not lost to Saints away since August 2003.
- United have also come from behind to beat Southampton on eight occasions in the Premier League. This is a record for the number of come from behind wins by a team over any other tea in the league.
- Southampton have failed to score in their last three home league games, with their goalless drought at St Mary’s currently standing at four hours 35 minutes. They’ve never gone four top-flight home games without a goal.
- Manchester United haven’t lost three successive Premier League games in a row (or in a single month) since December 2015 under Louis Van Gaal
- Jose Mourinho’s side have won more points away from home this season in the Premier League (34 in 18 games) than they have at Old Trafford (31 in 18 games). But if they do not win their last two games, they will end up with their lowest win tally in a Premier League season (17).
Although he has not scored in more than 400 minutes of football, Manolo Gabbiadini is the only player Southampton player to have scored against Manchester United this season. He scored a brace in the League Cup final that Saints lost. When he arrived in the January transfer window, it seemed that the blunt Saints attack had acquired an edge. However, since his return from injury he is struggling to find goal scoring form. Perhaps playing against a defence against whom he has already scored a brace might stir up some form. Claude Puel will certainly be hoping so.
In the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the major responsibility of scoring for United has fallen on the young shoulders of Marcus Rashford and he is doing his best to fulfil it. 5 league goals and one assist in 1682 minutes is not extra ordinary return but for a 19 year old it is a promising contribution. Rashford possesses the guile and the physique to beat a defence that is capable of parking a big bus in front of their goal. Mourinho will want Rashford to improve his confidence but he might also want to limit his playing time as right now he will want to protect all his important players from injury and keep them fit for the Europa League final.
Claude Puel is still without Alex McCarthy and Virgil van Dijk due to injury, while Sam McQueen is a doubt.Manchester United. Sofiane Boufal was subbed off against Boro at half time and will find it tough to start on Wednesday. Charlie Austin managed a few minutes on the weekend and Puel might use him off the bench if his attack fails to deliver at home yet again.
Manchester United are looking forward to welcoming Fellaini to their midfield, as he comes back from his three-match suspension. Paul Pogba was unavailable on Sunday due to his father’s demise and may not be involved on Wednesday as well. Mourinho confirmed that Blind will be rested at St. Mary’s so Darmian might get a start. Mourinho could give game time to some of United’s youngsters as he strives to preserve his first team for the Europa League final.
With one team focused on a European final and the other team quite indifferent, this match does not promise to be a high scoring thriller, like the League Cup final between these two sides was. Manchester United are just going through the motions without really fighting for anything and their hosts have one of the bluntest attacks in the top half of the table. This match is likely to end as a draw.
Southampton 1 – 1 Manchester United