United look value on trip to impotent Southampton
Goal-shy Saints pose little threat
Sky Sports 1, 7.45pm Wednesday
This may be a game that Jose Mourinho doesn’t want to play but it’s also a game that Manchester United can win, and they look a bit of value to pull off the victory at Southampton.
The United boss is in juggling mode at the moment as he tries to keep his players fit for next Wednesday’s Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm.
It means the side he sends out tonight will be different from the one who performed so meekly at Tottenham last Sunday and there will be even more changes against Crystal Palace this coming Sunday.
Interestingly, though, despite Mourinho’s tedious rhetoric regarding priorities, he is still making only fleeting use of the Old Trafford kids and he can send out an able and experienced outfit at St Mary’s.
And given Southampton’s abject record against the top six this season – played 11, won none, drawn three, lost eight – there is every reason for thinking United are the bet at not far short of 2-1, a price that would have been unthinkable at any other stage of the season.
Saints certainly aren’t finishing the season particularly well and Saturday’s 2-1 win at Middlesbrough was a rare highlight.
They had gone five matches without success prior to their win on Teesside, although it wasn’t an easy schedule with defeats against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal and a draw with Liverpool. They also lost to United at Wembley in the EFL Cup final at the end of February.
The problem – and it’s been this way all season – is a lack of goals. They have bagged only 41 in the league, have not found the net in four of their last five in front of their own fans, and are crying out for Charlie Austin to be fully fit. The ex-QPR man has been out since December but he’s still their top scorer.
Only Sunderland have scored fewer goals at home than Saints and that’s a stat that has to encourage Mourinho, no matter what side he sends out.
United have been anaemic in their last two league games, which resulted in defeats at Arsenal and Spurs. Mourinho insists he’s not bothered by either result although he would surely be keen to go into next week’s final on something of a high and a team containing the likes of David de Gea, Eric Bailly, Henrik Mkhitaryan and several other internationals can earn a welcome win against such impotent opponents.
Because of the potential for few goals – Southampton’s matches average 2.44 per game, United’s a dismal 2.25 – the draw deserves far more consideration. After all, United have had 14 stalemates this term, a Premier League high. Maybe have the draw to fall back on if this match is as dour as it promises to be.
Manchester United draw no bet
1pt Evens Paddy Power
Top scorer Charlie Austin is fit again and pushing for a first start since December. Virgil van Dijk is back in training but won’t play. Shane Long (ankle) is a doubt.
Daley Blind will be one of several key men rested. Marouane Fellaini is available after a ban. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young are injured.
Southampton and United have had 11 0-0 draws between them this season.