The only constant, they say, is change and Southampton’s promotion to the Premier League after seven years in the wilderness is a welcome one for many supporters. Perhaps not for Sir Alex Ferguson though who has not always enjoyed the best of times on the south coast. Not least because two of the 70-year-old manager’s most ignominious defeats during his quarter-century in charge of Manchester United came at Southampton’s hands.
Indeed, Reds will not easily forget the Hampshire side’s 6-3 drubbing of United in 1996, nor the infamous grey kit that ’caused’ the Reds’ downfall six months earlier. Ferguson can be thankful that United’s players will at least be able to see each other at St Mary’s on Sunday; the team’s nifty new white kit will be on show for the first time this season.
Kits and colours aside, United head to St Mary’s seeking momentum after last weekend’s home victory over Fulham at Old Trafford. With the Saints having lost two Premier League games on the bounce, Ferguson’s side should make the lengthy trip south with confidence.
However, injuries continue to bite into the Scot’s defence, although Northern Irishman Jonny Evans should make his first start of the season after returning from ankle surgery this summer. Evans rehabilitation will allow Michael Carrick to join Tom Cleverley in midfield.
Elsewhere Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand will be unavailable until after the international break, while Ashley Young has a minor knock. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones remain on the sidelines.
“Centre-back is our main concern at the moment,” admitted Ferguson, who is managing United in the league for the 1,000th time.
“Jonny Evans played on Wednesday [for the reserves] and came through fine. He’s the strongest option we’ve got. Phil Jones has done some training but isn’t ready yet. Ferdinand’s in the same boat. At least we have one centre-back available, which is an improvement. It allows us to put Michael Carrick back in midfield.
“Wayne [Rooney’s] out for four weeks. It’s nothing serious on the actual gash – it’s a bad one but it was treated carefully very quickly. We don’t expect any complications from it. I think he’ll be back in four weeks. The fact it’s a gash and not a muscle or joint injury means he can do a lot of work in the gymnasium. We’re not too bad with that.”
In Rooney’s absence Robin van Persie should start for the second week in succession, while Ferguson is likely to move Carrick into midfield.
Elsewhere Nani could come back into the United side after missing out on Ferguson’s squad entirely for the match against Fulham last week. Young’s injury ensures the Reds are short in wide areas.
“It was nice of the FA to let everyone know that Ashley Young is injured,” added Ferguson.
“There is no point giving them any information now. We have a game on Sunday and why should we alert our opponents who is fit and who is not fit. It won’t happen again. He’s out, he got a knee injury last week, although it’s not serious. Obviously he will be ready in a couple of weeks’ time.”
Meanwhile, midfielder Darren Fletcher is unlikely to make Ferguson’s squad despite appearing in two reserve fixtures in recent weeks. The Scottish international has not played for United’s first team since November 2011 after taking time out for a persistent bowel condition.
Fletcher, who appeared disturbingly gaunt in recent months, has gained strength according to his manager and is in contention to make United’s Premier and Champions League squad lists this season.
“The first thing to mention is he has put weight back on now, he’s back to his normal weight from two to three years ago,” added Ferguson
“He’s training well every day. He played the other night and did really well but I don’t know where he’s at, to be honest. With the condition he has, and has to deal with, it’s wait and see. If he keeps doing as well as he’s doing then he will come into contention because he’s a fantastic player.”
Meanwhile, Southampton may hand a début to Zambia forward Emmanuel Mayuka, although Japanese defender Maya Yoshida and £12 million striker Gastón Ramírez cannot play for the Saints until after the international break.
Whatever the hosts’ line-up few expect anything bar a United win. Despite those headline-grabbing losses at Southampton, United has won on three of the club’s four Premier League trips to St Mary’s, including a 2-1 win in May 2005 that relegated Southampton to the Championship. In between, United has emerged victorious in two FA Cup ties on the south coast.
And who would deny Ferguson victory his 1,000 league match in charge of the Reds? In the intervening 25 years the Scot has emerged victorious 598 times, with 233 drawn and 168 defeats. Sunday is unlikely to be the 169th.
Southampton v Manchester United – Premier League, St Mary’s – Sunday 2 September 2012, 4pm
Southampton (4-1-4-1): K Davis; Clyne, Hooiveld, Fonte, Fox; Schneiderlin; do Prado, S Davis, Lallana, Rodriguez; Mayuka. Subs from: Gazzaniga, Richardson, Shaw, Seaborne, Ward-Prowse, Puncheon, Sharp, Lambert, Lee, De Ridder
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Cleverley, Carrick; Valencia, Kagawa, Nani; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Wooton, Büttner, Powell, Giggs, Anderson, Scholes, ;Welbeck, Macheda, Hernández
Referee: M Dean
Assistants: J Collin, J Brooks
Fourth Official: M Halsey
Last 10: ;Southampton 1, United 9, draw 0
Overall: Southampton 24, United 52, draw 26
- Southampton lost 2-0 to Wigan Athletic last weekend, although ;Morgan Schneiderlin ;impressed with an ;incredible 7.29 miles covered in the game;
- Schneiderlin covered ;7.31 miles against Manchester City on the opening weekend of the Premier League, meaning the Frenchman holds first and second position in the EA SPORTS Performance Index for distance covered in a single game;
- Captain Adam Lallana covered ;the second highest amount of ground after Schneiderlin in both games and registered the fastest top speed of any Southampton player with 19.05 mph;
- Meanwhile, Ferguson’s side is making a habit of nervy victories this season after scraping to a 3-2 win over Fulham last weekend;
- Robin van Persie scored on his full début for United and covered 5.99 miles, second only to Tom Cleverley who covered an impressive 6.4 miles for the Reds;
- Cleverley also completed 46 passes in the Fulham half, the most of any player in the last round of games, while the midfielder has completed ;90 passes in his opponent’s half so far this season;
- Adam Lallana is Southampton’s top passer, but he has completed just over half Cleverley’s number with 50 passes in his opponent’s half.