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Q&A with Saints fan: Strengths and weaknesses ahead of United clash

A view from the enemy. Every week Stretty News interviews a fan of the opposition and get their opinions on important matters.

Ahead of Sunday’s clash against Southampton, I caught up with Saints Marching writer Marc Walker (@mwalkerjourno).

Dale: Southampton were overrun in a 3-1 defeat at Everton on the opening day of the season. Where did it all go wrong?

Marc: “The difference in the two halves that Saints played on Saturday was frustrating to say the least. We looked very good in the first-half and were deservedly ahead through Adam Armstrong’s superbly-taken goal, but straight after half-time we conceded, fell back and allowed Everton to dictate play for the second period. 

“Individual lapses in concentration and seemingly back communication cost us in defence – we certainly can’t afford to allow that to happen against United if they are in the same form as their opening day win.”

Dale: What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side?

Marc: “Pressing is definitely a strength – we can worry teams and create chances when we get it right. Che Adams and Adam Armstrong caught Michael Keane dallying on the ball against Everton and created the opening goal by closing down the passing lanes. Ralph Hasenhuttl rarely strays away from his 4-2-2-2 system when the team is defending because it is designed for his pressing style, and Saints will be looking to press United from the start to impress in front of their own fans.

“There is an inexperienced look to our side this season and that could be a weakness at times, whilst I would also be concerned about being overrun in midfield this weekend. I remember our central two being completely taken out of the game by United’s three-man midfield in our St Mary’s fixture last season so hopefully we’ve got an answer to that this time around.”

Dale: What are Saints fans hoping for this season?

Marc: “I think most Saints fans will be wanting progress and to be able to relax about the team’s situation. There is always a few fearing a relegation scrap, so mid-table obscurity and just a level of consistency will probably do this time around. If we see some good football being played and our young players developing well, our fans will be happy enough.

“Ultimately, the highest aim under Hasenhuttl should be to sneak into a European place or win a cup, but we’re not strong enough for either of those things right now. A finish of 10th-12th and a decent cup run this season would be excellent.”

Dale: Who do you think will win the Premier League?

Marc: “Stating the obvious, it will be one of City, Liverpool, United or Chelsea. Having seen their transfer activity to date, Chelsea and United look a lot closer to challenging and I think their opening day performances show that. As a supporter of a team that will definitely not be in the running, I can only hope for an entertaining title race with twists and turns and a few teams well in with a chance right up until the end.

“I’ll say United will sneak it this year with Sancho and Varane proving key.”

Dale: How do you rate Southampton’s transfer dealings in the summer so far?

Marc: “8/10. Supporters of other clubs may be thinking that losing Ings, Vestergaard and Bertrand in the same window is catastrophic for a team like Saints but the replacements brought in, and some very valuable squad depth that was not there last season too, have given things a fresh look. It remains to be seen whether it will all pay off, but ultimately the three players mentioned above did need moving on as they did not want to commit to new deals.

“Signing Tino Livramento for £5m is phenomenal business, and Adam Armstrong looks a more than capable replacement for Ings even though it is early days. We do still need one or two more faces though and a centre-back – potentially one capable of playing in midfield too – will surely be signed before the window slams shut.”

Dale: Who will be Southampton’s key men this season?

Marc: “The heartbeat of the team is undoubtedly James Ward-Prowse. He has developed into a top midfielder and is the perfect example for other players at our club given that he came through the academy. It is good that Saints have him tied to a long-term deal with consistent rumours about his future.

“This season could be huge for Nathan Tella and Mohammed Salisu as they take the next steps in their promising careers, whilst the goals and creativity of Che Adams, Adam Armstrong and Stuart Armstrong will be huge if we are to have a successful year.”

Read more: Manchester United predicted XI v Southampton: Solskjaer to unleash Sancho from the start

Dale: What have you made of Luke Shaw’s rise to prominence in becoming one of the best left-backs around?

Marc: “Personally, I love seeing our academy graduates progress in their careers. Of course we would like them all to stay with us longer, but some of them outgrow us and Shaw has definitely did that. 

“It seemed like United would not get to see the very best of him when Jose Mourinho was in charge but now he has fully developed into the player he always was going to become. He has shown great determination to overcome the doubters and that horrible leg break, and now he’s now one of the world’s best in his position.

“From a Saints viewpoint, we would not be the same without a strong link to the academy. The club holds great pride for all the players who push into first-team football from the Saints system and most of our fans do too.

Dale: Finally, give us your scoreline prediction for Southampton v Manchester United.

Marc: “Although the difference in results and performance levels for both teams last weekend is ominous, I’d like to think Saints can battle to a draw in front of full home crowd.

“I’ll say 2-2.”

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