If there was one thing you expected from José Mourinho’s start to life as Manchester United manager, it’s that he would make an instant impact. The Portuguese gaffer has done just that: spending in excess of £150 million as he looks to build a squad capable of challenging the title. If Saturday’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth is anything to go by, he has a lot of boxes ticked.
Southampton are adjusting to life without a number of key faces and a new and inexperienced – at least as far as English football is concerned – manager in Claude Puel. They looked lively at times in their 1-1 stalemate with Watford, but some of their familiar frailties remain. This match will be the first Friday night special of the season, so expect a raucous atmosphere at Old Trafford.
With just 180 minutes of competitive football under their belt, Manchester United already look a dangerous animal under Mourinho. Their 3-1 win over Bournemouth was spectacular for its ruthless efficiency and the changes that the ‘Special One’ has made, both tactically and in terms of personnel, were clear for all to see.
Eric Bailly, the £30 million defender signed from Valencia, added pace and power to the backline but looked poised and composed in possession too; he already looks a masterstroke of a signing by Mourinho. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, offered the physical presence in attack that the Red Devils so badly missed last season and his eye for goal will finally add the finishing touch that their smart build-up play was lacking in 2015/16.
Those who underwhelmed to various degrees last season appear to have been given the Mourinho treatment as well. Ander Herrera was a revelation in a deep-lying midfield role, orchestrating attacks like it was the 'Last Night of the Proms'. Alongside him, Marouane Fellaini did what he does best: getting stuck into tackles, winning headers and making a nuisance of himself in the midfield battleground.
Juan Mata, a player Mourinho sold while in charge of Chelsea, was given freedom to roam from the right hand side and caused havoc in the Bournemouth backline; the shackles placed upon him by Louis van Gaal’s pragmatic regime lifted. All of this without £115 million of talent in Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan too. The signs are good for an Old Trafford revolution in 2016/17.
Despite dominating proceedings, arguably it was a point gained for Southampton in their 1-1 draw with Watford in their Premier League opener under new boss Claude Puel. After the Hornets’ Ben Watson was sent off for a professional foul, the Saints had 15 minutes to find a winner. Yet they simply could not break down their opponents, despite having 64% possession of the ball, six shots on target and half-a-dozen corners.
There were enough negatives to suggest that Manchester United will enjoy themselves against this Southampton side on Friday night. Five of Southampton’s six shots on target were from outside the penalty area, highlighting a lack of penetration in the final third and they have now conceded in each of their last 13 Premier League fixtures.
On the last two occasions that Southampton have headed north to Old Trafford they have managed to pick up a pair of 1-0 victories, although it would take a particularly brave bettor to predict that lightning will strike thrice on Friday. The Saints are a work in progress following the sale of three key figures in Mane, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle, while the new faces at United have made an instant impression.
Indeed, those two Saints victories mask a historical trend that suggests the Mancunians can have their wicked way with their South Coast guests as and when they please. In their previous 20 meetings, United have triumphed in 14. Tadic will find himself well marshalled by Fellaini and, with Southampton’s main attacking outlet shackled, their front two of Redmond and Shane Long could find themselves in for a lonely evening.
United will enjoy plenty of the ball in their opponent’s half and with Mata drifting in off the right flank, the Saints midfield could find themselves overwhelmed. The bookmakers are on the Red Devils’ side too, with quotes of 1/2 from NetBet on them triumphing here respectfully short.
There is a case to make for a -1 handicap in United’s favour, so don’t be afraid to take the generous 13/10 on offer at NetBet. Southampton’s defensive frailty makes them a vulnerable-looking prospect in front of a packed Old Trafford and, as such, backing over 2.5 Goals at 20/23 with Coral Sports also makes for a sound investment.
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