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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Southampton can give Manchester United and Jose Mourinho some respite from December misery

It has not been a great month for United but their opponents on Saturday at Old Trafford are also struggling form wise. 

It has not been a great December for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United, but they have a chance to end the month on high against Southampton. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
It has not been a great December for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United, but they have a chance to end the month on high against Southampton. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Though the anger has not touched the levels of two years ago after Manchester United lost four successive games in December under Louis van Gaal, it has not been a good month for the club or manager Jose Mourinho.

Mourinho, the club and the players have all been criticised by fans doubly frustrated by their own woes and also because Manchester City are galloping into the distance towards a fifth top-flight title in 137 years with a 15-point advantage at the top.

Beaten 2-1 at home by City on December 13 to lose their 100 per cent home record was the start of the frustration this month.

A last-minute elimination from the League Cup at second tier Bristol City was another setback, before they conceded a late goal against the 10 men of Leicester City to be held to a 2-2 draw.

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That was followed on Tuesday by another 2-2 draw, this time at home to Burnley. This time it was United who got the last-gasp leveller through Jesse Lingard to earn a share of the spoils after they had been two goals down at the break.

Mourinho’s claims in his news conference after the Burnley game that he needs more money to strengthen the side which had already had £300 million (Dh1.4bn) spent on it invoked mirth and mockery, but his United, while an improvement on last season when they finished sixth, and the season before that when they were fifth under Van Gaal, clearly do need improvements.

Too many signings in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era have failed to convince, including Luke Shaw and Morgan Schneiderlin, who cost over £50m – and that was before the rampant transfer inflation of 2017.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Matteo Darmian, Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger cost a lot of money in transfer fees and wages.

You will not find many people arguing that they were worth it. Other players are still struggling to convince that they are top level Manchester United class.

Ander Herrera or Daley Blind are decent footballers, but they do not compare with the best in their position globally. You can go through the majority of the United squad and say the same.

Perhaps only David de Gea and Paul Pogba would be considered in the world’s top 30 players – and Pogba’s game still has to improve, with better positioning, more accurate shooting and less emotional recklessness.

Southampton, who lost 1-0 to United in September, thanks to a goal from Romeleu Lukaku, could be ideal opponents for a United side on Saturday, who need to prove their many doubters wrong.

United only have a single point advantage over Chelsea in third and are desperate for a win to at least go into 2018 on a high.

Southampton were rocking well before they sold yet another player to Liverpool with Wednesday’s £75m sale of Virgil van Dijk.

Mauricio Pellegrino, who took over in the summer from Claude Puel, started solidly enough and they were tenth at the end of November. But results have been poor in the last month, with four defeats and three draws, the latest a 5-2 hammering at Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.

Fans have started calling for Pellegrino’s head and the trip to Old Trafford looked daunting.

Southampton have only won once away all season and that was at a Crystal Palace side who were pointless, and low on confidence, at the time.