Verdict: Man Utd/Man Utd
Best Odds: 6/5
Chances are Old Trafford will be rocking for the homecoming of Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive footballer, with everybody hoping the Frenchman will quickly develop an understanding with Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Out to spoil the party for the home crowd will be Southampton, a team that are nowhere near as good as they were last term.
Manchester United fans didn’t have a lot to cheer about since Sir Alex Ferguson left, but new winds are blowing at Old Trafford this season and expectations are at a premium. There was plenty of excitement among the fans after the captures of Jose Mourinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, but it was the return of Paul Pogba that really got them going. The Frenchman was suspended for the opening Premier League fixture against AFC Bournemouth, where his teammates enjoyed a comfortable 3-1 victory, with both Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting on the scoresheet. Juan Mata and Anthony Martial also played well at the Vitality Stadium, meaning that Jose Mourinho faces a couple of selection dilemmas as he aims to bring Pogba and Mkhitaryan to the starting line-up. The most important thing is that Man Utd are now much more dangerous up front when compared to last season, while Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw have helped patch up the leaky defence, so maybe the Red Devils should be seen as one of the main title contenders after all. They now have some decent options on the bench as well, so we fully expect them to see off struggling Southampton.
Paul Pogba should slot straight into the starting line-up as he returns from suspension, but one of Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney is likely to remain on the bench.
Chris Smalling is available after recovering from injury, but he faces a fight to return to the side after Daley Blind impressed in his first two appearances of the season.
Southampton have been on a major uptrend over the last few years, and the club seriously improved their finances as their key players went on to sign for England’s top clubs, but such a strategy has severely weakened the playing squad at St Mary’s. This appears to be the beginning of a new era for the Saints, who not only saw manager Ronald Koeman leave, but also stayed without key men Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Victor Wanyama. And while they did recruit Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Jeremy Pied, it is fair to say the trio has yet to prove they can perform at this level. Even if they recorded some decent results in pre-season, Southampton struggled in their opening fixture against Watford, coming from a goal down to earn a 1-1 draw, albeit failing to score the winner despite having an extra men on the pitch for some 20 minutes. New boss Claude Puel has switched to 4-4-2 diamond formation in an attempt to get the most out of the players at his disposal, and that appears to have been a good decision as their most creative outlet Dusan Tadic is now playing at the tip of the diamond. However, the Saints clearly lack the quality to match in-form Manchester United and we cannot see them get anything from Old Trafford.
Manchester United target Jose Fonte could return to the starting line-up despite the fact that he lacks match fitness after a prolonged holiday.
Full-back Ryan Bertrand continues to miss out through injury, meaning that talented defender Matt Targett will keep his place in the side.
Key Factors to Consider
- Home team have failed to win any of their last six meetings (D2 L4)
- Man Utd won ten of their last fourteen meetings (D2 L2)
- Both teams scored in seven of their last nine meetings
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in his first two appearances for Man Utd
- Paul Pogba set for second Man Utd debut
Manchester United have seriously improved the squad from last season and they already appear to be in decent form, which cannot be said for Southampton, who will struggle to compensate the departures of Mane, Pelle, Wanyama and Koeman. Therefore, we expect the Red Devils to record a comfortable triumph on Friday evening.
Verdict: Man Utd/Man Utd
Best Odds: 6/5