United travel to St. Mary’s tomorrow for what should- on paper at least- be a fairly easy tie. After all Southampton are 47 places below United in league standings -currently occupying fourth in the NPower League One, while The Reds are flying, still unbeaten in all competitions bar that forgettable night at Upton Park.
The FA Cup has thrown up countless upsets over the years however and even though anything other than a United win may seem unthinkable, anyone old enough to recall our trip to Bournemouth in the mid eighties will know, you can never take anything for granted in this competition.
The burning question on everyone’s lips will be ‘what team is Sir Alex going to put out?’ At Upton Park in the Carling Cup the changes backfired as United put in their worst performance of the season-in fact of the last few seasons if I’m toyally honest.
All due respect to Southampton but they’re not quite at the same level as West Ham- although give it a few months and they may be in the same league. Even a second string United side should be enough to overcome Nigel Adkins’s men and with several players having just played two games in four days, Sir Alex may use the tie as an opportunity to give some of his charges a well -earned rest- particularly following the second- half heroics against Blackpool.
Edwin Van Der Sar, Partrice Evra, Rafael Da Silva and Rio Ferdinand are all out while Michael Carrick’s ankle injury makes him a doubt, although Sir Alex suggested in his press conference today that he should be ok.
That still leaves Fergie with a large pool of players to choose from and he may well field a fairly strong side, with a couple of fringe players thrown in to give others a rest and gain some valuable game time.
Much of the team news speculation surrounds whether Tomasz Kuzczsak or new signing Anders Lindegaard will start in VDS’s absence. Personally I think Kuzczsak may get the nod due to his experience, although you would expect any United ‘keeper to have a relatively quiet afternoon, the lively atmosphere of an FA Cup tie could be a baptism of fire for young Lindegaard.
There’s also the question of who’ll be United’s strike force, personally I’d like to see Chicharito given a start- especially following his performance at Bloomfield Road.
United should enter the match in supreme confidence as not only are we unbeaten in the league and now siting five poitns clear, but we”ve also knocked out those lovable urine throwing scousers in the previous round and have defeated Southhampton the last five times we’ve played them.
The FA cup is the competition of romance though, where dreams can come true and the unthinkable become reality so if United are to avoid being on the wrong end of the biggest upset since Corrie lost out to Eastenders in the National Television Awards there’s one or two players we need to keep an eye on.
Ones to Watch/Head to Head
Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain – The 17 year-old winger and son of the former Stoke City winger Mark Chamberlain, is the most talked about young Saint since Gareth Bale left the club. With United and Arsenal- there’s a surprise- supposedly keeping an eye on his progress, tomorrow’s game represents the ideal opportunity for him to shop what he can do.
Oxlade-Chamberlain started off as a central midfielder but is now used primarily on the right wing and with Evra out tomorrow it’s likely that either Fabio, O’ Shea or maybe even Jonny Evans will be asked to keep him under wraps.
Whoever it is who’s given the job will be in for a busy afternoon as with six goals and three assists in less than 20 games, the youngster has certainly hit the ground running in the professional ranks.
Adam Lallana. 22 year-old attacking midfielder Lallana has been prolific for Southampton since rising through the ranks of their -now becoming rather famous- youth academy. With 20 goals last season and nine already this term he certainly knows where the net is and likes to play ‘in the hole’ just behind the front two.
Although it’s obviously a massive step up for the young lad playing against United rather than the likes of Oldham and Notts County- a golascorer is a goalscorer and The Reds need to keep an eye on him.There’s still a chance Lallana may not start has he’s been struggling with a knee injury, but if the Saints are to stand any real chance then they need the youngster to not only play but perform at the top of his game.
Rickie Lambert- Striker Lambert is a powerful centre forward in the old-fashioned mould who has been prolific in the lower leagues for some time now. With over 130 goals in professional football Lambert certainly knows where the net is and was on fire last season with 33 in all competitions. Lambert may be the scourge of the lower divisions defences but you’d expect him to find the going a lot tougher against the country’s top team. Like Lallana though, United cannot afford to be complacent- particularly at set-pieces where the 6 ft 2 Lambert could prove a threat.
Overall this promises to be a cracking cup match with, the youngsters and well traveled professionals of Southampton enjoyng their day in the sun against United. Following a dreadful opening half against Blackpool though, Sir Alex’s men will be on full alert not to let that happen again so Saints cannot expect the same generosity that was afforded the Seasiders.
I suspect Southampton will come out all guns blazing as the atmosphere and the occasion drives them on, but United should be able to let our superior ability and experience weather any early onslaught and give Southampton a real lesson in football.
Although I don’t expect a massacre- United should stop the Saints from marching on- ouch, sorry- without too much drama- just don’t be surprised if Southampton make it a little uneasy for the first 20 minutes or so.
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