Last weekend’s showing against Crystal Palace was the perfect response to our gutless defeat against Watford the previous week; the entire team showed a fantastic understanding of their role in the side, whilst Mario Lemina dropped a midfield masterclass like few others we’ve seen in red and white colours.
But whilst that was a promising showing for what the remainder of the season could yet hold for the Saints, tomorrow will be a task like none other they’ve faced under Pellegrino. So, to get the inside track on what to expect from Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, I spoke to Utd Report and Jack West from Man United Panel.
What have you made of United’s season so far?
UTDreport: What can I say? Our goalscoring has been phenomenal in comparison to previous seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. We’ve been solid in pretty much all areas of the pitch. It’s still early doors but things are looking good.
West: We are a Saturday night setback in Stoke away from the perfect start. Our ability to take the lead, absorb pressure, grind the game for 70 minutes and let loose on opposition defences has just been impeccable. Our squad depth has hit excellent heights and substitutions are a huge reason for our success in the early stages of this campaign. The likes of Martial, Lingard, Fellaini all offer diversity and it becomes difficult for teams to work us out as a unit. We’ve finally managed to shake off the post Fergie tagline of “Predictable United” (so far) … it finally feels good to be a Manchester United fan again.
United appear to have reached a new level of performance this year; what do you put that down to?
UTDreport: Nemanja Matić, mainly. He’s doing all the dirty work that Paul Pogba had to do last season, meaning our no.6 can now push forward and chip into the final 3rd of the pitch. Also, we’ve been a lot quicker on the counter-attack and that’s very much down to Romelu Lukaku. He holds the ball up so well – gives and goes – and he’s off. We have so much pace on the counter.
West: I would say keeping a group of players together is always key as it allows the squad to get to know one another’s key assets, strengths/weaknesses etc but this also applies to a manager and what he does in his second season. Jose Mourinho worked with the resources he had last season and bought a fair amount of success, to which he then recruits his own talent in the following seasons to come, especially the spine of our squad. We all know that Jose is one of the best when it comes to emulating a solid core for any side, and that firmly applies to what he’s done with United this season. The average height of our spine is now 6”2, and that means we can bully sides again with power and pace.
How did you rate your clubs dealings in the summer transfer window?
UTDreport: Lukaku was possibly the best replacement we could have bought for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. We lacked clinical finishing last season and Lukaku has made us forget about all that. Matić has filled a huge gap in our midfield and he has such a massive presence. The idea that teams have to try and get through him before even testing our defence gives us peace of mind. Victor Lindelof has had a shaky start to life at Manchester United but it’s never an easy task transferring from the Portuguese League to the Premier League – he’ll come good.
West: A solid 8.5/10. Needed recruitment that scatters a dash of World Class around the United dressing room once again, creating near on perfect squad depth. However, I believe there was room for improvement as I feel that amongst all the hype of the high profile Lukaku, Matic, Zlatan and Lindelof signings, we should have been hunting for another full back – in particular on the left hand side. I say this on the condition that Luke Shaw doesn’t return to form and make the LB spot his again – if that were to happen then I have no concerns at all.
Who do you expect to be your key man this year?
UTDreport: Paul Pogba. It’s a real shame he’s picked up an injury but last time it happened, he came back even stronger. The guy is absolutely mesmerising and i’ve never been so confident of a player becoming elite.
West: The stats will tell you that Romelu Lukaku will be our key man this year, which I have no doubt in my mind that may be true, however in my eyes its Nemanja Matic. He is the key to everything at Manchester United with his ability to sit and assert control of a midfield on his own. He can start attacks and break them down when opposition charge at us. It’s simply joyful to watch, but I feel a lot of his hard-work goes un-noticed, simply because he isn’t scoring or assisting every week. He’s also the reason that the likes of Fellaini and Pogba care coming alive this season, as he frees space up for them and allows them to break forward to join the attack.
What would make for a successful season?
UTDreport: Obviously us United fans are fully expecting to challenge for the Premier League. We’ve got what it takes to win it but we just have to hope the likes of Manchester City carry on their trend of conceding goals due to their somewhat dodgy defence.
West: I think a successful season would be perhaps a Quarter Final or above finish in the UCL, a top 2/3 league finish and a domestic Cup Final.
Which player from this Southampton side strikes the most fear into you?
UTDreport: It’s got to be Virgil van Dijk. I gave him some stick in his first season at Southampton as all I could remember was Anthony Martial skinning him at St Mary’s. He’s now established himself as one of the best in the league and I am very thankful he’s still at Southampton and not one of Liverpool or Chelsea.
West: If fit and his head’s in it, then of course Virgil Van Dijk. One of a handful of defender’s in this league with the ability to back pocket the likes of Lukaku and shut them out for 90 minutes. If he starts tomorrow and he plays the way we know he can, then it could cause us problem’s going forward. Another mention goes to Mario Lemina who was phenomenal last week against Palace, and could be the catalyst for a Saints shock?
You’re stuck on an island and the only possible company you can have is from a United player; who’s it going to be?
UTDreport: Juan Mata. Our Spanish wizard possesses a lot of wisdom so hopefully he’d keep the two of us alive!
West: I may have to keep it simple here and opt for Paul Pogba to accompany me on the island. His “class clown” persona on and off the field means that there would never be a dull moment but here’s to also hoping that his footballing ability compliments his performance in life or death situations in the sense that the man can do a little bit of everything. More of the same please, Paul.
The United squad decide to host a Royal Rumble; who will be the last two standing? And who wins?
UTDreport: It would be between Lukaku and Ibrahimovic. I don’t think any explanation is needed, and I also wouldn’t like to call a winner!
West: No debate here. Matic and Bailly the last two standing, the winner is simply too tough to call. 3rd place would go to Victor Lindelof.
And finally, what do you think the score will be this Saturday?
UTDreport: It’ll be a difficult game for us as always in Southampton but I think we might just knick a win. 2-1 to United.
West: I think with Southampton’s lack of goals in recent times and United’s reborn knack of pulling teams apart late on, I think it could be comfortable, but ultimately anything can happen on the day. 0-2 United.