BY FRANK GARRASI
A challenging trip to the south coast awaits the Red Devils in what has the potential to be a defining match in Manchester United’s season in its plight to make the top four.
Both sides come into the game with only a point separating them, however in contrastingly different form.
Southampton, with the stingiest defence in the Barclays Premier League, let in its first few home goals of the season in a 3-0 loss to Manchester City and followed that up with a late defeat at the Emirates against an out of sorts Arsenal.
Manchester United, on the other hand, has recorded four wins in a row and look to make it five and solidify its place in the top four.
The two teams come into the game with key personnel missing and the possibility of players beginning to burn out due to the busy festive period fixtures.
Southampton will be without Jay Rodriguez, James Ward-Prowse, Sam Gallagher, Morgan Schneiderlin and most recently Jack Cork. On-Loan defender Toby Alderweireld will also be a doubt for the upcoming fixture with a hamstring injury.
Schneiderlin, the Premier League’s fourth most efficient tackler this season, will be sorely missed by the Saints, and United would be wise to capitalise on this opportunity to dominate the midfield.
Also, given the injuries sustained to Ward-Prowse and Cork, academy product Harrison Reed may be in for a start on Tuesday morning.
United are also going through an injury crisis at the moment. They will be without former Saint defender Luke Shaw, Phil Jones, Rafael, Jesse Lingard, Daley Blind and Angel Di Maria.
The Red Devils will, however, be boosted by Jonny Evans’ and Wayne Rooney’s return to fitness, much to the dismay of Ronald Koeman.
The relationship between the two managers is said to be frosty due to their time back at Ajax where they allegedly had disagreements.
One of these managers, Louis van Gaal, particularly singled out lumbering striker Graziano Pelle for praise. The Italian was signed as a 21 year old by van Gaal while he was managing Feyenoord.
Pelle, who is without a Premier League goal since the 19th of October, will be keen to break his goal drought, and the United defence will have its hands full trying to contain him.
Electric winger Dusan Tadic, who has arguably been Southampton’s best player so far this season, will be looking to take advantage of United’s injury problems and lack of depth at full back, going up against either Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young.
Southampton has not beaten United in its last 10 attempts and Rooney, who has scored five goals in five Premier League starts against the Saints, will be determined to lead his side to its fifth consecutive victory on Tuesday.