Inside Info is back. On this occasion, it's Manchester United who make the trip to St. Mary's. Southampton managed to get the better of United at Old Trafford when they last played - can they do the job at home this time around? <!-- ######## START FLOATED VIDEO SNIPPET ######## -->
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To see if that's even a thought worth entertaining, we spoke to United fan and football writer Andi Thomas. We talk Shaw, Schneiderlin and how life is as a United fan under Louis van Gaal's reign.
St. Mary's Musings: What were your expectations for the season before it started?
Andi Thomas: Improvement, both in style and substance. Last season's fourth place finish was a bare minimum that owed much to the inadequacies of others, and United exited both cup competitions in variously shambolic circumstances. And last season's football was good in moments, but rarely great. So: some involvement in the title race; a decent cup run; and, of course, a reestablishment in the Champions League. That's not started well.
SMM: A season in, how do you rate Louis van Gaal's reign as United boss?
AT: There's been a lot of good stuff, particularly in the way he's been unafraid to perform the drastic surgery on the squad that was required. The biggest frustration is the persistent sense that he can't quite bring himself to attack properly. This isn't just an aesthetic problem -- though United can be frustrating and even dull -- but also a pragmatic concern. United aren't quite capable of shutting a game down as Van Gaal would like, which means that they need to be killing games. And that means scoring more than one goal.
SMM: To what extent will United miss Luke Shaw following his horrific injury in the week?
AT: Massively. He's been by some distance United's most exciting player this season. Partly that's to do with the actual football -- he's been effervescent; everyone else has been bland -- but also because it's extremely pleasing to see a young player take the measure of his own talent, and rise to it. That's the real tragedy of the injury. Van Gaal predicted that this would be the "Year of Luke Shaw," and that was in the process of coming true.
SMM: How has Morgan Schneiderlin performed since his move from Southampton?
AT: Fine, with the caveat that Van Gaal hasn't quite worked out what to do with his midfield yet. So far he's been playing a clear 4-2-3-1, with that two being drawn from Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera, but we might see a return to last season's three-man midfield at some point. Either way, when Schneiderlin's been picked he's done well, and the move to Old Trafford doesn't appear to have fazed him at all. It's always hard to quantify these things, but I suspect he's been important in United's improved defensive solidity, and I'd expect him to start.
SMM: With Sadio Mane being strongly linked to moving from Saints to United, do United really need him?
AT: It's a tricky one, this. Perhaps it's best to say that United didn't need him but could certainly have used him. If United don't achieve their goals this season, then it won't be for the absence of Sadio Mane, but at the same time, some more pace and trickery would absolutely be welcome. Personally, I like him.
SMM: Overall, how happy were you with United's transfer dealings in the summer?
AT: With the moves that happened, delighted: Schweinsteiger is absolute class, Matteo Darmian and Schneiderlin have both started well, and Memphis Depay oozes with potential. Even Anthony Martial, though the fee was comically large, has looked very promising (in, er, one and a bit games). But the failure to rectify last summer's bad purchases was very strange: nobody wanted to keep Falcao or Angel di Maria at the club, but neither of them were replaced. It's almost like United thought "Well, that striker didn't work, so we don't need a striker, and that attacker didn't work, so we don't need one of those either." Which would be a weird thing to think.
SMM: How do you think Southampton will fare this season?
AT: With the caveat that I haven't seen much of your games so far, I imagine you'll achieve the same sort of finish as last time. Jose Fonte's still there to make all the other defenders look better, and I'm excited to see if Jordy Clasie can establish himself. Mucking up the Europa League qualifier will probably help you get back into it, because football is silly. The only thing that might go wrong is if the Netherlands realise they should have given Ronaldo Koeman the job after the World Cup, and try to rectify that. But you seem to have a fairly resilient structure, so even that might be survivable.
SMM: If you could sell any of United's regular starting XI, who would it be and why?
AT: Wayne Rooney. Not because United don't need him -- in the absence of any other senior striker they almost certainly do -- but because I'd be genuinely fascinated to see who would bid, and how much. I suspect that his decline is coming, and coming fast. He's got a lot of miles on the clock.
SMM: If you could sign any Saints players, who would it be and why?
AT: Presumably you've got a 16-year-old in the academy who will, in three years time, be worth about thirty million? We'll have him now, save Liverpool a few quid.
SMM: Finally, what do you reckon the score will be come Sunday?
AT: 1-1. United will dominate the ball, score one, then concede with about 20 minutes to go. Glory glory.
We would like to thank Andi for his time.