Nobody said it was going to be easy, but Southampton are quickly finding out that life at the top can be ruthlessly difficult.
The Saints’ meteoric rise from League One to the Premier League has taken just two seasons and if there was a fear that success has come a bit too quickly for Nigel Adkins and his men, the first two games of the campaign have done little to disprove that theory.
A 3-2 defeat at champions Manchester City on the opening day was a decent effort given the size of the task, even if the final scoreline did flatter Southampton, but last week’s 2-0 reverse at home to Wigan Athletic was far more concerning for Adkins and suggests a season of struggle is on the cards.
In 2011/12, United boasted a brilliant 17-1-2 record in games against the teams in the bottom half of the Premier League, scoring 47 goals and conceding just seven.
Southampton’s home form has been the cornerstone of their success (they boasted the best record in the Championship last year) and although they started well against the Latics, they had little response to going a goal down and with a tough run of fixtures to come, there is a real danger that the south-coast outfit could reach October cut adrift from the rest of the pack.
Clashes with Arsenal, Everton and Aston Villa await in September, but first comes Sunday’s home match against Manchester United and though Adkins will no doubt talk up the occasion as one to savour (which he is right to do), the truth is the visit of the Red Devils could not come at a worse time as the Saints are desperately trying to get some points on the board.
Southampton are 5/1 to get their season up and running with a win, while bwin’s 3Way football betting market has the draw at 3/1 and United at 53/100 and I really cannot see anything other than an away victory here.
While Adkins has a squad with precious little Premier League experience, Sir Alex Ferguson has a group that has been around the block numerous times and dealt with assignments just like this one on countless occasions and their extra nous will prove the difference in the face of Southampton’s naivety.
That’s not to say it has been vintage United so far this season, because it certainly hasn’t: the defeat to Everton was a below-par performance no matter how Ferguson tried to spin it, while the 3-2 win over Fulham at Old Trafford last weekend was characterised by defensive lapses that made the game much closer than it should have been.
But there were signs in that victory over the Cottagers that the swashbuckling United were returning, and with Robin van Persie off the mark with a superb goal, there is nothing to suggest that Ferguson’s side won’t have an easy day of it at St Mary’s.
Under Ferguson, United have made an art form of swatting away the lesser sides with the minimum of fuss and last year was no different. In 2011/12, United boasted a brilliant 17-1-2 record in games against the teams in the bottom half of the Premier League, scoring 47 goals and conceding just seven.
And that work wasn’t done primarily at Old Trafford: away from home, United won eight of their ten games against the division’s strugglers, conceding just three goals. I see their first match against a side certain to finish in the bottom half going exactly as you would expect.
United are certainties at 53/100, but a good odds against shout is the 7/5 that the Red Devils win by at least two goals. Ferguson’s side have beaten the one-goal handicap in six of their last nine trips to Southampton in all competitions and can enjoy another comfortable afternoon on the south coast.
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