No you’re not imagining it. Manchester United go into their second tie with Southampton in little over a month with just one name on the first team injury list. Just one. Ashley Young remains the solo casualty in Louis van Gaal’s squad, with a hamstring injury due to keep the England international out for around six weeks. The likes of Blind, Fellaini, Rojo, Valencia, Di Maria and Lingard are all available for selection once again, though besides Di Maria – who played returned last weekend at Yeovil – question marks remain over their match fitness. Nevertheless, a somewhat empty physio room is something of a rarity at Old Trafford this season, but how long this change in fortune lasts remains to be seen.
The Yeovil tie – though perhaps didn’t bring the same kind of dominant performance as suggested from the 64% possession – marked another win for Louis van Gaal’s side, with crucial returns to action – and the scoresheet – for both Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria. A strong first team presence formed the spine of the team, while the likes of Carrick and van Persie were given the opportunity to take a well earned rest after extended runs in the side.
Both will expect to return on Sunday, with Ronald Koeman’s side the latest side attempting to penetrate the fortress of Old Trafford as it is increasingly becoming once again, with just four home points dropped all campaign. The squad will be much bolstered by the return of other key figures as mentioned earlier, though any drastic changes from the team that lined up at Stoke will be unlikely.
The visitors seems to have rediscovered their mojo in recent weeks, following a run of five consecutive defeats which included as undeserved a victory as you will see from United at St Mary’s. The Saints are replicating their early season form once again, unbeaten in their previous five and hot on the heels of the Reds, just one point behind in fourth. Rumoured United target Nathaniel Clyne and midfielder Jack Cork should be fit to return, yet Sadio Mane who has been in devastating form of late for the Saints misses out with a calf strain. Tricky winger Eljero Elia could deputise after completing his move from Werder Bremen.
The manager stated during his press conference his ambitions to dominate world football (and thankfully not just to emulate Manchester City), completing the signing of Victor Valdes as no 2 goalkeeper in the process, leaving Anders Lindegaard with little option but to have to be at Old Trafford just to pick his nose, much to his dismay. Whether more additions are to follow after Valdes this January or not, performances must take a drastic improvement if the dizzy heights for which van Gaal is aiming will ever be realised. The Yeovil tie, much like the Stoke game, and Tottenham before it truly encapsulated some of the frustrations the side have been suffering. Overwhelming quality was eventually able to see us into the 4th round draw, yet the two previous Premier League games have to be viewed as missed opportunities with a vital four points dropped. With the players still struggling to completely adapt to a new style of play, too many simple passes are being misplaced with a lack of clear cut chances created to feed a supremely talented strikeforce.
The return of Di Maria should inject a huge confidence boost in the side and despite the gulf in opposition, was able to prove last weekend just how devastating he can be going forward. Herrera staked his claim for a return to the first team, with the Spaniard’s stunning strike provoking an incredible display of passion in his celebration. A strong team spirit is imperative in order to provide success going for, and quite clearly the side is a much more together unit than last season and able to grind out results even when not playing well.
Prediction: The Saints will provide a huge threat through their intricate and efficient brand of play for which Koeman has them implementing to success far beyond all expectations this season. A much improved, dominating performance against a team in form would be top of the wish list on Sunday, but that said, on this instance, another tight, scrappy three points will suffice. United 2-1.
Probable line-up: De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Carrick, Rooney, Di Maria, Mata, Falcao, Van Persie