We spoke with avid Southampton fan and blogger James Shapland ahead of this weekend’s game to ask him about his expectations for the match, who he felt Southampton’s best player was and, of course, who would win in a fight between Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman
Going into the season were you worried about the fact Southampton have sold so many players?
When you see players as influential and long-serving as Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert leaving the club, it is difficult not to feel concerned. However, I always saw doomsday predictions of imminent relegation as ridiculous. The acquisition of Ronald Koeman, a reputable manager, should have indicated that Southampton are not lacking in ambition.
Out of all the players that left, who was the biggest loss?
Adam Lallana was, without doubt, the biggest loss. His influence, both as player and first team captain, was a significant factor in Southampton’s success over the last few years. It was a pleasure to watch him play and I am sure that he will become a key figure in the Liverpool and England teams in the future.
Has this season gone above and beyond in regards expectations so far?
Absolutely. While I did not anticipate a relegation scrap as many predicted, I never entertained the idea that we would be sitting in fourth position in January. The speed at which Koeman has been able to gel the side has been quite phenomenal and we are playing even better football than last season.
“Graziano Pelle will be the key man. While United’s defence has improved recently, I still see weaknesses in the back line.”
Who is Southampton’s key player for the game?
Graziano Pelle will be the key man. While United’s defence has improved recently, I still see weaknesses in the back line. Pelle’s strength and aerial ability has caused teams problems throughout the season and I think the likes of Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans will struggle to contain him. The Italian is due a goal and, after scoring in the fixture at St. Mary’s, he will fancy pinching one on Sunday.
Where do you think Manchester United & Southampton respectively will finish?
I think United will be in the top four. Louis van Gaal is starting to make a real impact and if he can sign a centre back in the January transfer window, a Champions League spot will be no problem. Southampton’s recent results against Chelsea and Arsenal at St. Mary’s have proven that the team are not out of their depth at the upper end of the Premier League. However, top four would be a remarkable achievement for the club and, as the season progresses, teams like Tottenham and Arsenal will be knocking on the door. While it is not impossible, I feel that a position in the top six is more realistic.
Honest answer here, is David de Gea the best keeper in the league?
David de Gea has been unbelievable this season and come to United’s rescue on several occasions but Thibaut Courtois still edges it for me. While De Gea has been the best shot stopper in the Premier League, Courtois’s presence and command of the box is second to none in world football. Furthermore, the United man has had a greater chance to shine due to a shaky defence in front of him. Either way, I wish it was Massimo Taibi between the sticks on Sunday rather than De Gea!
“Van Gaal is a scary man and not someone I would like to be on the wrong side of.”
Can you see Southampton holding on to Schneiderlin and Clyne, who have both been linked with United among other clubs?
The club has said that no players will be sold in January and I am inclined to believe that. This summer, however, it may prove difficult to keep hold of Morgan Schneiderlin. Several high profile clubs have been linked with the Frenchman and his form has improved since then. He has been the main man at Southampton this season and will feel that he is destined for success elsewhere. With regard to Nathaniel Clyne, the club are reportedly in the process of offering him a new contract, which I hope he signs. Although, as Saints understand better than most, contracts are merely academic in modern football. One thing is for sure, if United are to sign either player, they will have to delve deep into their pockets.
If you could pick just one Manchester United player to join Southampton who’d it be?
I hate to make an obvious choice but it would have to be Wayne Rooney. Throughout his career, his technical ability has been exceptional but, beyond that, his work rate and passion for the game is what stands him above the rest. Particularly in his new, deeper role, his impact on matches is consistently outstanding.
Do you reckon Luke Shaw has to potential to become one of the world’s best?
Yes, definitely. Watching Luke Shaw at Southampton, I always knew that he was destined for a big club. Nowadays, full backs are judged on their ability to bomb forward and deliver crosses into into the box and he can do that. However, defensive responsibilities are, in my view, equally important. Both positionally and physically, Shaw is spot on and he will be the England left back for years to come.
“Either way, I wish it was Massimo Taibi between the sticks on Sunday rather than De Gea!”
One word to sum up the reserve fixture last month at St.Marys?
Smash-and-grab (hyphenated word!)
Who would win in a fight, Louis van Gaal or Ronald Koeman?
I’d have to back Louis van Gaal. He is a scary man and not someone I would like to be on the wrong side of. Although, I think Ronald would hold his own. Behind that calm demeanour, I’m sure he has a feisty side to him.
Similarly who would win in a fight, Victor Wanyama or Marouane Fellaini?
Despite Fellaini’s penchant for a yellow card, it’s got to be Big Vic. He is a man mountain and is not afraid to throw his weight around.
Finally, prediction for the game?
I’m going to go for a draw, 1-1. Old Trafford is always a tough place to visit but Saints will be high on confidence after the results against Arsenal and Chelsea. As previously mentioned, I see weaknesses in the United defence, which I think Graziano Pelle and co. will exploit. However, keeping a clean sheet against a front line of van Persie, Falcao, Di Maria and Rooney is no mean feat.