Jonny Evans vs Rickie Lambert is a battle that could be a regular occurrence
Sir Alex Ferguson will manage his 1,000th league game for Manchester United on Sunday when he takes his side down to the south coast for a clash with Southampton. Prior to going down after the 2004/2005 season, the Saints had spent 27 consecutive years in England's top-flight. Current manager Nigel Adkins has led the club to back to back promotions and they were runners-up in last season's Championship campaign. United and Southampton last met in January of 2011 during a fourth-round FA Cup tie. The Red Devils were 2-1 victors on that day with Michael Owen and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) providing the goals at St Mary's Stadium.
Form Guide: United have earned three points from their opening two league matches. The season opener saw them defeated 0-1 by Everton and they emerged victorious last weekend with a 3-2 defeat of Fulham.
Team News: Ashley Young, Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Wayne Rooney have all been ruled out of the match. Darren Fletcher is doubtful due to his bowel condition. (Full Team News Report)
Form Guide: No points from the Saints in their opening two matches. They caused difficulties for Manchester City in their season opener but the champions eventually emerged as winners after two late goals gave them a 3-2 win. Southampton were also defeated 0-2 last weekend by Wigan Athletic. They defeated Stevenage 4-1 at the midweek in a League Cup tie.
Team News: There are no known injuries but Gaston Ramirez and Maya Yoshida will not be available due to them being signed so recently in the most recent transfer window.
United: David de Gea will be between the posts and ahead of him should be captain Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans -- the latter has recently recovered from surgery. If for some reason Evans isn't deemed fit, then Michael Carrick may deputise again. Patrice Evra and Rafael are the expected full-backs. Carrick, Paul Scholes, Tom Cleverley, and Anderson are all in contention for two central-midfield spots while Shinji Kagawa is anticipated to be advanced from them in a No.10 role. Antonio Valencia and Nani are possible on the right wing while Nani, Danny Welbeck, and Ryan Giggs are possible as the left-sided attacker. Robin van Persie is expected to be the lead striker.
Southampton: Kelvin Davis is the Saints No.1 and the back four ahead of him is not anticipated to be changed from the opening two weekends: Jos Hooiveld and Jose Fonte as the central-defenders and Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Fox as the full-backs. In their central-midfield trio, Morgan Schneiderlin and Steven Davis are likely to be the deeper-lying central-midfielders while Adam Lallana should be the most attack-minded central-midfielder. James Ward-Prowse is also in contention for a role in the center of the park. Up front, Rickie Lambert is expected to lead the attack line but Emmanuel Mayuka could see time in that role as well. The wide forwards are anticipated to be Jay Rodriguez and Guly Do Prado. Jason Puncheon is also possible as a right-sided attacker.
* Set-pieces: United have conceded three goals thus far this season and two came from set-pieces -- and the other came from a de Gea and Vidic mishap on a relatively easy cross to deal with. Lambert and Hooiveld are powerful in the air and it appears that the Saints may be focusing on scoring from set-pieces:
"Set-pieces are a massive part of the game and we work on them day in, day out in training. We have got good target men going into the box with the likes of Rickie [Lambert] and Jos [Hooiveld], so hopefully they can cause a few problems. de Gea is a great keeper and would not be playing for a club like Man United if he wasn’t. But everyone makes mistakes. It is about us getting the ball into the box so they make errors. Everton beat them on the opening day and showed if you can get in their faces and get crosses in the box they are beatable."
- Adam Lallana (Southampton midfielder)
They seem to think being physical with United is the way to defeat them. Perhaps they're right. If Evans can return, that will be massive for United on set-pieces. Vidic should be able to handle either Lambert or Hooiveld while Evans would pick up the other -- presumably. This means that if Carrick starts in midfield, he can mark the Saints' third most dangerous aerial threat. Evans returning could have a relatively stabilizing effect in a trickle-down sort of way on set-pieces.
* Open-play trends: If Southampton due intend to be physical in an effort to disrupt United's rhythm, then it will be important for Sir Alex's side to circulate the ball quickly and find the front four in space. Whether this means a Scholes arrowed diagonal ball for the wingers or quick one-touch passing from Cleverley that combines with Kagawa, the ball must be moved quickly from the central-midfielders. United will likely dominate possession but they must be careful not to let the Saints' possible physicality cause turnovers in relatively deep zones.
It's very possible that Anderson could receive a surprising start -- surprising when considering the four central-midfield options for two spots. He's probably, and sadly, the closest thing we have to an enforcer or midfield presence with Fletcher unavailable. He tends to play well when alongside the in-form Cleverley so it wouldn't be shocking to see that duo possibly start together. The biggest worry with this possible duo would be them leaving too much space in behind them -- space that the dangerous Lallana would look to exploit. Perhaps Carrick starts to provide positional stability in central-midfield and he's partnered by either Ando or Cleverley. A Carrick-Scholes pairing would easily control the match but they'd be vulnerable to combativeness in the center of the park.
Quite simply, the pattern of the match will likely be this: United dominate possession, Southampton stay organized and the gaps to attack through will be narrow, Southampton are physical, and Southampton look to score from set-pieces or from crosses sent in for Lambert. There will then need to be a few keys for United: (1) Spread the attacking space by having the wingers receive near the touchline -- particularly Valencia. (2) Keep feeding Kagawa but his tremendous understanding of space is likely the key to break through a congested middle area of the pitch. (3) Pin back their full-backs with our wingers when their wide forwards come inside so that they don't have proper width to send in crosses from.
KO: 4:00pm BST, 11:00am EST | St Mary's Stadium
Live TV: Sky Sports (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.A.)
Referee: Mike Dean
Odds: Southampton 11/2, Draw 7/2, Manchester United 3/5