Why Man Utd’s Next Two EPL Fixtures Are So Important
Manchester United travel to Southampton on Saturday and although we’re not yet quite in September, the game already feels like it’s one United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must not lose.
United finished last season badly, and a second defeat – which is around 12/5 (+240) in the Premier League match odds – within the first four games of this campaign would mean that Solskjaer is looking at a critical Autumn period in charge.
Solskjaer will be without Anthony Martial for the trip, as well as former Southampton academy graduate Luke Shaw, both of whom picked up injuries during the surprise 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace last week.
|Upcoming EPL Fixtures||Date||To Win Odds|
|Southampton (A)||August 31||11/10|
|Leicester (H)||September 14||3/4|
Veteran Ashley Young will come in for the full back, but the real concern for Solskjaer, is the absence of forward Martial.
The Frenchman has two goals from the opening three league fixtures, and looked more threatening than he has done for a couple of years, so much so that his odds to be the Premier League’s top scorer have been halved from 66/1 (+6600) to 33/1 (+3300).
Solskjaer Lacks Options
Earlier this week, Alexis Sanchez joined Serie A side Inter Milan on loan, and with Romelu Lukaku having made the same move on a permanent basis a couple of weeks before, it’s surprising that a club of United’s size haven’t signed at least one replacement to support Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Wissam Ben Yedder, Fernando Llorente, James Maddison and of course, Paulo Dybala, were linked over the summer, but in his pre-match press conference, Solskjaer said that Mason Greenwood is “an option behind Anthony and Marcus”, which means with Martial out, his chance could come sooner than he thought.
Greenwood made his United debut in the Champions League win against Paris Saint-Germain last season, and on Friday morning was called up to the England U21 squad for the games in September against Turkey and Kosovo.
His progress and goals from the academy to first team have been well documented, but United should have more options in that final phase of the field than what is currently available.
Dan James and Rashford will occupy two of the front three positions and it remains to be seen if United fans will get their wish and see Greenwood from the start.
Palace Defeat Exposed Limitations
The defeat against Palace provided the watching world with a reminder of where United are, and their limitations.
Similar to the game before at Wolves, United huffed and puffed, had plenty of possession, but didn’t have enough attempts on target to really trouble Vicente Guaita in the opposition goal.
What will have caused alarm to Solskjaer and his coaching team is the ease in which Palace scored both their goals.
Ole: "Clean sheets are always the foundation to build on and we started really well against Chelsea, but we know the two against Palace should have been avoided.— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 30, 2019
"We hope to go down there [to Southampton] and look stronger at the back." #MUFCpic.twitter.com/KarQ1jchE4
Victor Lindelof committed himself to a header he was never going to win in the build-up to the first, and David De Gea continued how he ended the last campaign with another mistake in the dying moments. The Spaniard’s form is another huge worry.
It’s why United’s next two games, Southampton away, before the international break, and Leicester City at home in a couple of weeks, are so important.
Firstly, so that Solskjaer can try and get a couple of back-to-back wins on the board, and secondly so that some of his key players can recapture some much-needed confidence and form.
Southampton Will Threaten
One clean sheet in the last 14 games is an area Solskjaer will want to address and one his opposite number, Ralph Hasenhuttl, will be aware of.
Midfielders, James Ward-Prowse and, if fit, Nathan Redmond, will be the chief creators and will look to hurt United by occupying some of the space United leave in between their defence and midfield.
Southampton are winless in their last eight home league games against United, but they’ll feel they can make it ninth time lucky on Saturday, heading into the game as plucky 12/5 (+240) underdogs full of confidence having beaten a decent Brighton side away from home last week.
The victory ended a strange start to the season for Hasenhuttl’s men, who lost their opening two games of the season away at Burnley and then at home to Champions League winners Liverpool.
Although they start the game in the relegation zone a home win will see them jump above United in the table. Early days maybe, but a concerning one nevertheless for United should they fail to head back to Manchester with all three points.