Once upon a time two men worked together at Barcelona. Being Dutch they didn’t really get on, and their relationship was one of great sourness and suppressed distaste for one another. Those two men were known as Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman. The latter was the assistant manager, and set about buying a wonderful Spanish house in the fancy part of Catalonia for him and his family. His house ended up being an absolute spectacle – Mr Koeman would have been a proud man looking at his lovely house. However, his pride and happiness was short lived. Louis van Gaal caught wind of this development, and set about a development of his own; namely, building an even bigger and fancier house just down the road from Ronald Koeman. The final product was indeed a far more magnificent sight than what Koeman had to offer. Louis van Gaal had overshadowed his assistant.
This little story, regardless of its truth-value, demonstrates the abrasive relationship between the two managers of Manchester United and Southampton. The previously high profile co-workers now face eachother in a match that looks to be one of the more important fixtures of the season for both Dutchmen.
With the two sides only separated by 1 point and 1 place in the Premier League this encounter promises to serve an amount of brutality and intensity usually reserved for massive derbies. Southampton at home has always been a bit of a bland fixture to me, but this upcoming match either throws Louis van Gaal’s side back into top four jeopardy or pleasant distancing from rivals. It’s deadly important.
The visiting side is far from a pushover – Ronald Koeman’s side boasts the finest defensive record in the Premier league, only shipping 15 goals in 20 games. Their success emanates from their magnificent core in the middle of the park; the likes of Schneiderlin and Wanyama have been instrumental in protecting a back four of Bertand, Aldeweireld, Fonte and Clyne, making Southampton one of the more defensively assured teams in European football today.
But with an unbeaten run of 11 in all competitions, along with winning their last 5 matches at home, Louis van Gaal’s side will go into this encounter with a lot of belief that they can sweep one of Europe’s best defenses aside. The last 8 encounters between Manchester United and Southampton have seen 6 Manchester United wins and 2 draws. Southampton’s last win at Old Trafford came all the way back in January 1988.
History-wise, it looks good for the home side. Injury-wise, it also looks positive; only Ashley Young is ruled out, everyone else is available. This miraculous lack of injury within the Manchester United side is about as unnatural as it gets, but certainly welcome.
Southampton will have to travel to Old Trafford this Sunday with Mane, Cork and Clyne suffering from injuries. Yoshida is away at the Asian Cup.
Breaching a line of defence with 9 clean sheets this term will be no elementary task; but with the prospect of a more or less full strength Louis van Gaal team being fielded for the first time this season, a tantalising encounter between a team notorious of their fine attacking options against a team notorious for their solidarity awaits.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Southampton