During rather trivial lessons at school my daydreaming mind often ventures back to September 2nd 2012 – a day where 10 hours in the car seemed like a fitting sacrifice in order to witness Robin van Persie net a hat-trick away to Southampton. That day being so memorable due to it being one of the last (and finest) late comebacks from a Sir Alex Ferguson side; being 2-1 down with minutes remaining, Robin van Persie netted twice, sending the away end into delirious raptures.
2 years on, only 6 of that match-day squad remain at the club today – the new look Manchester United side that head south tomorrow possesses a growing sense of arrogance and flair that has so noticeably eluded them in the past year or so. Whilst this current group of players doesn’t necessarily boast the same stoic nature as the one that triumphed at St Marys, they pose a real threat as a result of their constantly growing discipline and coordination as a team.
Not only is the side looking more aligned as a unit, they seem to have repossessed some of that notorious grandeur – Louis van Gaal’s team is unpredictable (in the most positive of ways), confident, and a bit arrogant.
Having won 4 matches in a row, Manchester United is a club in a relatively healthy condition; with teams like Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham (who all finished above Manchester United last season) seemingly having their own little competition where they all try and be worse than one another, Louis van Gaal’s side has begun to develop some consistency in their performances.
However, mandatory home victories against Hull and Stoke has somewhat provided supporters with a slight overdose of optimism – of course winning games is a positive sign, but the trip to 3rd placed Southampton will reveal far more about whereabouts this Manchester United team is as opposed to the previous two fixtures
Ronald Koeman’s side has exceeded expectations to a monstrous degree so far this season. A side that lost a lot of talent in terms of management and players over the summer looked set to get nowhere near the commendable 8th position they achieved under Mauricio Potchettino last season – but as the busy December schedule gets underway the Saints are only 10 points behind 1st spot, a laudable achievement to say the very least.
With that said, the relatively easy start to the season has certainly aided Southampton; they’ve dismantled lesser teams with relative ease, but have generally bottled it against the bigger sides, losing to Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal – only scoring once in all of those encounters.
With that said, this Southampton team is streets ahead of the one Manchester United scraped past under Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2012; Ronald Koeman’s side is implicitly well organised, very energetic and sacrificially determined. This Mondays opponents have conceded 6 fewer goals and had 3 more clean sheets than Louis van Gaal’s side, scoring the same number of goals as well; but with a win tomorrow, Manchester United could leapfrog Southampton into third place – a position last reached all the way back in August 2013.
Manchester United will have to go into the encounter with Southampton without the talents of Angel Di Maria, who still remains out following a hamstring injury sustained against Hull. Rafael could feature for the first time since October, but Jones, Blind, Shaw, Evans are all still regaining their fitness. Wayne Rooney has been passed fit.
Southampton have also been swarmed with injury grievances over the past few weeks; Jack Cork, Morgan Schniederlin and James Ward-Prowse all certainly miss out on tomorrow’s encounter – Dusan Tadic and Toby Alderweireld are doubts.
Manchester City became the first team to emerge victorious from St Marys last weekend, comfortably winning 3-0 – a late Alexis Sanchez goal on Wednesday capped off Southampton’s worst week under Ronald Koeman to date, there doesn’t seem to be a better time for a side looking to achieve their fifth consecutive win to pay the Dutchman’s side a visit. A game reminiscent of that wonderful September afternoon back in 2012 seems to be a genuine possibility.
Prediction: Southampton 1-2 Manchester United