Over the course of the Premier League season so far, Southampton have failed to pick up three points against a single side in the top six. Tomorrow night however, Southampton will be given one last chance to break that record as they prepare to face Manchester United at St Mary’s.
To find out more about our upcoming opponents, I spoke with Jack West of Manchester United panel
Just how important is the Europa League final now that top four is out of the question?
In my view, it will decide how we judge this season, but I’m unimpressed with where we are. I’ve not been a fan of putting all of our eggs in one basket for the last two months or so, in the sense that Jose has solely invested in the Europa League. We could have been in the top four. We dropped silly points at home against the likes of Hull, Burnley, West Brom and Swansea, which would see us edge into that bracket. Not only this, but we can’t see another Manchester United season without Champions League football. Not only would the defeat cost the club about £50m, but we would find it a real challenge to sign the world class players that we need to allow us to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich etc; that is where we should be. If we win next Wednesday, I would brand this season a huge success; two trophies and Champions League football in Jose’s first season would be a huge step, but goodness me haven’t we made it difficult for ourselves at the best of times.
As an outsider looking in, what is your perception of Southampton this season?
I think Southampton are one of the most respected and admired sides in the league. Not just down to the attractive football they can play at times, but the way that they have invested their money after their initial financial scares. A state-of-the art training ground, beautiful facilities, and a strong investment in youth has helped to mould some of the top players in the English game. But you’re also respected for signing players for a reasonable fee, developing and selling them on at a premium. My one negative, however, is that I believe you need to be more stubborn and competitive when it comes to the transfer market. The majority of them have annoyingly moved on to better things, but Les Reed and his team really need to stick there neck out this summer; it’s a big window ahead if you want to keep the likes of Van Dijk in your side. As for the football, I think there is a problem with your lack of cutting edge in front of goal, and in recent weeks, the football has been dull too.
If you could take any Southampton player, who would it be and why?
I think you know what’s coming here… It has to be Virgil Van Dijk. Prior to his injury, he was quite easily the best centre-half in the league alongside Toby Alderweireld, and he would be the perfect partner to accompany Eric Bailly at the centre of the United defence. His presence is certainly felt and his distribution out of the back is exceptional. Daley Blind possesses this trait, but Van Dijk has the build and physique to go with it. Van Dijk is such an excellent all-rounder.
Who has been your player of the season?
It’s got to be Oriol Romeu. When he’s fit and Van Dijk and Gabbiadini aren’t, he’s got to be the first name on the team sheet. Finally found a club where he can nail down a first team spot, and boy is he reaping the rewards with solid performances on the pitch.
If you were Claude Puel, how would you set your side up to beat Manchester United?
Well, its two sides that have found scoring at home a real challenge this campaign, but I feel Puel should set up exactly how he did against Liverpool. The only difference, however, is that you should set out initially to absorb all of United’s pressure; we love a lot of possession but when we can’t find a way in behind the defence, we really struggle. Once United become increasingly stressed and their defence becomes stretched, make sure you have plenty of pace going forward and charge at United on the break. That’s certainly your best bet in my view.
Who do you expect to be your key man tomorrow night, and which Southampton player scares you most going into the game?
It’s really hard to tell who Jose will play and who he will rest tomorrow, but I’m hoping to see Martial start again – he was our best player by a country mile against Spurs, and on his day is a defender’s nightmare. The lad can groan all he wants but he is far more effective on the flanks as opposed to the centre; his pace and tricky footwork could cause Saints defenders real problems. The Southampton player that scares me the most on his day is Manalo Gabbiadini. We saw what he can do against us in the EFL cup final and when provided with service, is almost unplayable when he fancies it. His off the ball runs are exquisite as well, and this is something a little more rare to find in the English game of late.
And finally, what do you think the score will be?
Southampton haven’t been clinical at home enough this campaign, and United have been far better away from home when it comes to scoring goals. However, United will rest players due to the Europa League Final next Wednesday, and ultimately neither side really have anything to play for. We also love a draw so I feel with all of these factors, the game has draw written all over it. 1-1.