Saints to march out with win?

As prolific forwards prepare to meet an impenetrable defence, something has to give.

As a team in ninth spot play one in fourth, it is in the unusual situation where Southampton, nicknamed The Saints, can look down the league table and spy Manchester United beneath them.

Yet, whatever problems the Red Devils have had, their strikers have kept on scoring. Between them, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney already have 19 goals this season, 11 for their club.

Southampton have conceded only twice in the Premier League. With goalkeeper Artur Boruc and centre-back Dejan Lovren excelling, they have taken frugality to a new level.

Indeed, in the first seven games of the season in Europe's top five divisions, only one defence - Roma's - was breached fewer times.

It is all the more remarkable as Southampton have a rather attacking approach to defending.

Because while there is a temptation to bill this as the clash of the irresistible force (the United strikers) and the immovable object (the Saints rearguard), the reality is that their five clean sheets are a product not of sitting deep, but of manager Mauricio Pochettino's pressing game.

The midfielders and forwards will try to win the ball back near the opposition goal. It is an approach that requires collective commitment. It will also make it harder for United to dictate the tempo of the game.

Physical fitness has been a factor in their good start. The fixture list is another. United have played three of the top five but Southampton have faced only one side in the upper half of the table.

If it bodes badly that they have not won a league game at Old Trafford since 1988 and have not taken a point there in the 21st century, there are more auspicious omens. They have prospered as fearless underdogs under Pochettino, beating Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea last season.

Unlike United, who were beaten at Anfield, they have also won at Liverpool in the current campaign just as, unlike United, they have defeated West Brom.

The Albion game has an added significance. David Moyes has made his first, tentative forays into the world of squad rotation in their last two league games.

It was a specialist subject of Alex Ferguson's but his successor saw a weakened team lose to West Brom and required a remarkable rescue job from teenager Adnan Januzaj to prevent defeat at Sunderland.

Now, it is a question which nine names accompany those of Rooney and van Persie on the team sheet as Moyes looks for a mix-and-match selection to end United's mixed form.

Because while they are marooned in mid-table and Southampton aloft in the top four, the sooner United effect a role reversal, the better their chances of retaining the title.

stsports@sph.com.sg


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