Manchester United have all but had to wave the white flag in their attempt to win the Premier League title this season, any feint hopes that they may well have had will have now evaporated after two draws over the festive period. With the gap now at 15 points to runaway league leaders Manchester City the aim will now be to finish the best of the rest.
A week or so ago it was looking like Manchester were set to lock out the top two spots come the end of the season but after this stuttering form for United as of late, now you cannot be too sure especially as Chelsea have taken full advantage of their inability to win and going into this weekend they were just a point behind them in third.
And with Chelsea playing a couple of hours before there is every chance that they could move into second and crank the pressure further on Jose Mourinho as he searches for a first Premier League win in three outings, today he welcomes the visit of a Southampton side whose manager is under pressure but for differing reasons.
Boxing Day saw Mourinho evoke the spirit of ‘Fergie Time’ as it required an injury time goal from Jesse Lingard to break Burnley and snatch what at one point looked like an unlikely share of the points. That is because Sean Dyche’s men found themselves two nil up at Old Trafford at half time after goals from Ashley Barnes and Steven Defour.
United had 75% of possession after the break but struggled to turn their pressure into clear chances until the ball broke to Lingard on the edge of the area in the 91st minute, and he fired into the bottom corner. The comeback although complete did little to help United in the grand scheme of things as the gap between them and their cross town rivals City edges ever further.
If they are to stay second in the table by the end of the evening they are going to have to make sure that they get the better of a Southampton side that were the latest team to feel the force of the whirlwind that was Harry Kane. As Virgil van Dijk watched in the stands for the final team he would have witnessed his soon to be former club on the wrong end of a five star performance by Tottenham.
To be honest the mood that Tottenham it could have just as easily been seven or eight with only poor decision making when it really mattered stopping them from adding to their goal tally. The Saints may well have scored twice themselves to add an element of respectability to the final score but it was nothing short of a drubbing.
That fixture was played with the backdrop of the ongoing Virgil van Dijk but now that the sale of the defender to Liverpool for £75m has been agreed any of the field distractions have now been put to the bed with the immediate focus being that of trying to pick up some form of a positive result this evening.
After that though it will be what does Mauricio Pellegrino do with the windfall that has been recently afforded to him, not only that but if results go against him as they have done of late will he even be the man to spend the money. Southampton started the weekend in 14th but as they play last today there is every chance they could slip further down the table adding even more pressure on the former Alaves manager.
They are only two points clear of the relegation zone with as things stand with local rivals Bournemouth in 18th and there is every chance that they could be sucked into the mire should they lose this evening, it may be polar opposites for the two clubs but there is no doubting that this game has taken on the mantle of a must win.
However I think the axe will be getting sharper after events at Old Trafford as I can only envisage a win for Manchester United one that sees them hang on to second place as we close out 2017 while for Southampton defeat sees them end the year with a cloud of doubt hanging over the manager’s head. A home win for me.