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Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 11th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Saints V Manchester United The Preview
Friday, 22nd Sep 2017 15:00
Saints go looking for their first win at St Mary's over the spawn of the devil since August 2003, I think they might just do it !
My previews usually tend to be cautious, I look at the two teams and make a call based on form and quality of the team, using those two criteria for this game there will only be one result and it will not be a happy one for the Saints fans.
But the great thing about football is that sometimes you get results that completely throw the form book out of the window and go down to be classic matches in history and I think that this one might just be one of those.
I think that we now have a squad assembled that for the first time since Ronald Koeman left is stable and has the right personel in place, the shoots of recovery where visible at Palace they will have grown since.
It won't be easy, but Wesley Hoedt and Mario Lemina will be crucial to the game, I know people think I had something against Jack Stephens, but I really didn't I just did not see him as having the quality needed, look at Hoedt's performance at Palace and compare it to any that Stephens or indeed Yoshida have had and their is no comparison, Hoedt is just commanding.
Likewise Lemina, he is a true box to box midfielder who has strength, power and the ability to not only defend but attack, his partnership with Romeu was perfect at Palace with the Spaniard sitting and covering when he attacked and breaking up the game when possession was lost so we did not get caught on the break.
These three players will be crucial on Saturday, if they impose themselves then it will go a long way towards winning.
The big question though is Van Dijk, is he ready to play, against Palace he did not look sharp, his timing was flawed and he looked rusty, all the things that you would expect after a long lay off, the question is whether another weeks training and a U23 game is enough to warrant playing.
That is a call only the manager can make, a 100% Van Dijk alongside Hoedt with Bertrand and Soares is defence that all but maybe 3 of the Premier League teams would die for, but is quality alone good enough if Van Dijk is not sharp enough ? does that still make him a better bet than Yoshida ?
My gut feeling would be no, he needs another U23 game at least before he starts a game, but I do think that this is a game where it is about more than doing the obvious its about something in the air, I think Van Dijk will play some part Im not quite sure whether it might be at the end when he can batten down the hatches as he did at Palace.
Mauricio Pellegrino might of course opt to go for his finishing formation from last week and play all three central defenders and use Bertrand and Soares to get forward more, again the problem is that this has been used for only 13 minutes in the league this season, is this the time to try it ?
One formation that won't be used is two strikers up front, Pellegrino has already said this.
"It depends on the players, but if you see the majority of teams, why do the biggest and the best teams in the world play with one striker? Everybody is wrong, or not?"
"For me it is not to put people in front, but to arrive with people in the box. It's completely different the concept."
"If I start with two strikers it doesn't mean we score more goals."
The manager is not wrong. our problems are not about strikers not scoring, they are about getting players in the box and creating chances, I have already mentioned what I felt as a big factor in that, our weakness at getting caught on the break, but that is well on the way to being sorted.
This will give the likes of Redmond and Tadic more licence to attack and put in the killer balls, they have spent the best part of this year having to hold back and sit deeper, now they can get forward and find their form.
This is a tough game that I have the feeling we might win, but if we don't i'm not worried, I can see what the manager is trying to do and how he is trying to do it and more to the point he has a fit squad with the ability to win games, if we had had Wesley Hoedt at Wembley we would have won the game, we would have cut out the free chances in the box, we now have a better chance of doing that tomorrow.
I would love to predict a 3-1 win for Saints especially from the point of view that the final minutes would be a lot easier to watch, but I think it is going to be tight, United are specialists in scoring late goals, 9 of their 16 have been in the final 10 minutes, but I think we may just give them a dose of their own medicine, they will push forward to look for a vital win and we will catch them napping, James Beattie was the hero in 2003 in the 88th minute of our only winagainst them in 12 attempts at St Mary's but who will be the potential match winner this time out ?
For those that say we lack strikers it could be Manolo Gabbiadini, it could be Shane Long, it could be Charlie Austin, but it could also just as likely be Dusan Tadic or Nathan Redmond or even a headed goal by a central defender, if it was to be Virgil Van Dijk then that would be a start to repaying his debt to us for the last couple of months without him.
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