English Premier League viewers will have their weekend fixtures start slightly early this week, as “Friday Night Football” makes its 2016-17 debut at Old Trafford. Southampton travel north after a home draw against Watford last weekend for a meeting with Manchester United, who are fresh off their first victory under Jose Mourinho following a 3-1 win at AFC Bournemouth.
The first home match of a new season is normally a grand affair at the “Theatre of Dreams”, and Southampton manager Claude Puel can expect a massive and lively crowd for this challenging encounter.
The Saints know they will have to find a way to contain many attacking starts in this one, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial all set to be gunning for goals. The Red Devils found the net on three occasions in their first match of the new campaign and will perhaps look for even more in front of home supporters that demand an attacking style of play. The debut of French midfielder Paul Pogba is also widely expected, as he looks to make a strong first impression with his new club.
With Manchester United a heavy favourite to find another three points, we look at three things Southampton will need in order to pull off an upset on Friday night.
A STRONG START
As with any club on the road, a strong start to the match will be crucial for Southampton. In front of a capacity crowd, an early goal for United could sink the Saints in the opening few minutes.
Gaining control of the match and getting to halftime either level or a goal up will be ideal for Puel’s squad. After a sluggish first-half at St. Mary’s last weekend, supporters will hope to see a more proactive approach from Southampton in the opening minutes.
United will certainly come into this match confident, so catching them off-guard early is a must for the visitors to stand a chance of success.
DISCIPLINED DEFENCE AND PHYSICAL PLAY UP TOP
The Saints looked out of sync for much of their first match, struggling with possession and losing the ball in key moments. While many of their players need time to gel and find their rhythm under their manager, hard work in both halves of the pitch could make Friday’s fixture in Manchester competitive.
Captain Steven Davis, Oriol Romeu and Cedric Soares will need to keep their defensive positioning solid and not allow the Manchester United attack too much time or space on the ball.
The ability to contain Anthony Martial on the left flank will be critical, as his runs last week against Bournemouth consistently pierced the Cherries’ defence which led to real problems.
The forwards will also need to provide a physical presence in the United half of the pitch. Shane Long will need to establish himself as much as possible to earn touches in dangerous areas, while Charlie Austin may be able to provide size and strength as a substitute in the second half.
Set pieces are likely to be the most useful way of finding a goal for the Saints in this match, and midfielder James Ward-Prowse, in particular, is good at providing chances from dead-ball situations.
With United undoubtedly looking to be on the front foot in this match, utilising the counter attack with the pace of Nathan Redmond out wide is another way the Saints may find joy in this game.
22-year old Redmond found Southampton’s first goal of the new season last week and could get another against United on Friday. His exceptional pace and dribbling ability can help create and take scoring opportunities.
This tactic will require a higher standard of passing from his midfield counterparts however, an area that stood out as a weakness against Watford this past Saturday.