Fired-up Man United should down Saints

Top notch: Ward-Prowse is one to watch, regardless of who the Saints play. — Reuters

MANCHESTER United’s triumph over Liverpool on Monday lifted a massive weight off the shoulders of new manager Eric ten Hag and Old Trafford itself, and brought absolute delight to their fans.

Prior to their first win of the season, and the first over Jürgen Klopp’s side since 2018, this was a team in dire straits.

They were short of confidence, in desperate need of leadership, had no direction and lacked almost everything else that you’d need in a successful side.

But somehow, Man United lifted themselves off the floor to beat their old and most bitter rivals and give ten Hag a decent and fair platform from which to steer his tenure.

The Dutchman would have known, before he took over in the off season, the magnitude of his task and just what it means to be at the helm of one of the richest sports organisations in the world.

Ten Hag would have been familiar with the club and its history long before he arrived at Carrington for his first training session with a squad that included some of the best-known (and highest-paid) players in the game.

What he pulled off in the home victory at the start of the week was sheer contentment – nothing but total glee. It was a narrow and hard-earned win, carved out at the expense of the team they always wanted to beat most – Liverpool.

Well, it will count for zilch if they don’t beat Southampton as well.

Man United clash with the Saints at St Mary’s Stadium in south England in the early kick-off.

And with all due respect to the Saints, the visitors should win this one too. But it may not be as straightforward as many think.

Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side got off to a tough start in the new season when they crashed to Tottenham after having taken the lead.

They followed that up with a gutsy draw with unbeaten Leeds United and then came from behind to beat Leicester last weekend.

The convincing 3-0 triumph over Cambridge United in the Carabao League Cup in midweek was a deserved one.

And now the home side will be relishing, rather than fearing, the visit of ten Hag’s charges.

In the four games the Saints have played in this campaign, across the two competitions, Che Adams has scored four.

The 26-year-old striker, who has made 99 appearances for Southampton during which he has hit the target 24 times (Scotland: 19 appearances, five goals), may be one player who Man United will need to keep an eye on.

This lad can certainly do damage when given good service upfront and finds space.

But he may not be the only threat that ten Hag’s charges will have in their sights.

James Ward-Prowse, linked to several of the top teams in this transfer window and a number of others, including Chelsea, has again illustrated just why he is so sought after.

Not only is he known for his attacking instincts from central midfield or down the right flank, but he also has great skill and technique in passing the ball.

He is well-known for accuracy and is second only to David Beckham (18) on the list of most free-kick goals in Premier League history, with 14 hits.

To put things in perspective here, Cristiano Ronaldo and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry are joint third on that list, with 12 goals apiece.

That is the sort of company in which this 27-year-old Portsmouth-born star finds himself, and it is for this reason that Man United should be wary of him.

Of course, the Red Devils’ faithful supporters will not attach much importance to it, given that they appear to have found the right formula with which to pursue a top-four finish in the league. (Those thinking about winning it should be cautioned that it may be a bit premature.)

All the same, a performance like the one against Liverpool, should lead ten Hag to a second successive win.

It will be interesting to see if midfielder Casemiro, who joined from Real Madrid for £70mil (RM371mil) this week, starts today.

Either way, if ten Hag wants another performance of substance, he will have to bite the bullet again and leave Ronaldo, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw on the bench.

He will also need to get his side to start with the same tempo and commitment that they employed against Liverpool on Monday.

Man United played with great conviction and intensity – and speed and cohesion – and that’s what won them the game.

A similar showing by Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford upfront, and Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia at the back, should do the trick.

In particular, Martinez and Malacia have shown that they can do the business and should get the call-up ahead of Maguire and Shaw, even if it means sacrificing reputations and egos to achieve it.

Ten Hag’s squad, and their fans will not want the euphoria enjoyed after the Liverpool game to die down, not now at least.

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