Manchester United v Southampton: Saints can keep it tight

Manchester United v Southampton
Tuesday 02 February, 20:15
Live on BT Sport 1

United in danger of losing the initiative

Things change quickly in football, especially in this most chaotic and unpredictable of seasons. Manchester United fans were recently gloating about a six-point advantage over old foes Liverpool, but in the last two sets of matches, that lead has been whittled down to a solitary point.

The Red Devils suffered a careless, negligent defeat at home to Sheffield United, they were then held to a goalless draw at Arsenal. Edinson Cavani missed two presentable second-half chances for United at the Emirates, although Alexandre Lacazette did hit the bar for the Gunners.

United’s home form has been a source of concern for some time, but it has generally improved of late, with three wins from the last four PL outings at Old Trafford. However, it is striking how few of these home wins are convincing.

Their only league home win by a two-goal margin or more this term was the 6-2 thrashing of a naïve Leeds United, and if you look at the last 15 top-flight games at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side has won just four of them by two goals or more.

Scott McTominay, who has become an important part of the United midfield, was withdrawn in the first half at Arsenal. He had a stomach complaint, but is expected to be fit for this one. Although Bruno Fernandes has played a lot of football this term (27 starts in all competitions) he is still expected to start.

Glow of Liverpool win has faded for Saints

When Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhüttl sank to his knees, his eyes wet with tears after an emotional 1-0 success over champions Liverpool, it would’ve taken a brave observer to predict that they would go on to lose the next three games. However, defeats against Leicester City, Arsenal and Aston Villa have followed, and Saints have scored just one goal across those three outings.

It’s fair to say that the capricious football gods conspired against the south coast side against Villa – Danny Ings had a last-gasp equaliser ruled out for the offside that was verifiable, but only by an infinitesimally small margin. Before that, Villa keeper Emi Martinez had been truly outstanding in protecting his side’s 1-0 lead.

It’s still not beyond the realms of possibility that Hasenhüttl and company could make a charge toward the European spots, as at time of writing they are only four points off the top six, and only a complete meltdown would see them dragged anywhere near relegation danger.

Former Leipzig boss Hasenhüttl is developing a fine side that has made clear progress, and perhaps the most exciting element is the Austrian’s development of young talent. Just as he did with Leipzig, Hasenhüttl has been happy to place his faith in a clutch of players in their early twenties.

A clutch of injuries haven’t helped though, and Jannik Vestergaard, Kyle Walker-Peters and Nathan Tella could all miss out here.

Saints can run United close

United haven’t won by multiple goals very often at home, and in their 21 league games overall, they’ve only covered a -1.5 Asian Handicap four times. Saints led United 2-0 in the reverse fixture before collapsing to a 3-2 defeat, and they aren’t playing as badly as their current form suggests. Hasenhüttl has inspired his team to a run of one defeat in eight on the road, and I’ll back them +1.0 & +1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 1.784/5. We only lose if Southampton lose by two goals or more.

Goalfest is far from guaranteed

Yes, there were five goals in the reverse fixture, but the general trends suggest that Under 2.5 Goals is a bet worth considering at 2.3611/8. Seven of Southampton’s last eight PL games have featured fewer than three goals, and they have failed to score in five of their last seven. Four of United’s last seven top-flight encounters have seen an Under 2.5 Goals bet land, as have five of their last eight league games at Old Trafford.

Fernandes to end PL drought?

Despite a recent slump in goal production, I still believe that Bruno Fernandes remains Manchester United’s most important player. He has racked up 11 goals and 7 assists in the PL this term, he takes penalties, and he never loses the confidence to have a strike at goal. You can back him to score at 6/5.

On the Southampton side, Danny Ings was desperately close to scoring against Aston Villa, and he remains Saints’ chief goalscoring threat. He is 8/5 to score.

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