'The fact the team has been settled has helped everyone look really in sync' - the inside track on Southampton
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That’s the chasm between the two sides ahead of the high-noon clash at St Mary’s Stadium as Chris Wilder’s men look to register their first win of the season on the south coast in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
United’s troubles have been well-documented.
They have lost 10 of their opening 11 league games and are six points adrift of fourth-bottom Fulham – the worst start by any team in Premier League history
But what about the Saints?
Well, at the time of writing, they are sitting pretty in sixth place having won six and drawing two of their first 11 matches.
So, who are the players which make them tick and who’s the driving force behind their impressive start to the campaign.
Tom Crocker, of the Daily Echo, gives us the inside track on the men from St Mary’s.
Has Southampton's start to the season come as a surprise to supporters?
I would say not really. There was a lot of optimism around the fanbase going into the season, especially off the back of the brilliant form shown during lockdown.
However, things couldn’t have got off to a much worse start with defeats in the first two league games as well as an early exit from the Carabao Cup.
There were perhaps a few question marks at that point, but since then it’s been an almost constant rise with only one loss since and they fully deserve to be where they are in the table now.
Fans perhaps didn’t expect to be quite so close to top spot, but there was certainly a sense of excitement about what Ralph Hasenhuttl could do with the club this season.
Who have been the stand-out performers for the Saints this season?
Tough one, as it’s been a pretty settled side, all performing well.
James Ward-Prowse and Danny Ings are the obvious ones, but the likes of Oriol Romeu and Jannik Vestergaard each deserve a lot of credit for the performances they’ve been putting in, especially given how they weren’t really regulars in the side this time last year.
Who are the main threats?
Everyone knows about Ward-Prowse’s set pieces, but they’re still proving impossible to stop! When he’s not scoring free-kicks himself, he is delivering for others and it is proving to be a real weapon.
Aside from him, Ings and Adams as a front two have looked really dangerous, and should be paired up again on Sunday after Ings made his comeback from injury off the bench on Monday night.
What style of football (or system) should United expect to come up against?
The system Hasenhuttl uses is fairly unique, in that he sees it as a 4-2-2-2 with two central midfielders, two narrow attacking midfielders and then the two up front. The fact the team has been settled has helped everyone look really in sync and know exactly what their job is.
Ings and Adams will be a nuisance up front, with the rest of the team pressing up behind them trying to win the ball back. Whichever of the four attacking midfielders start, likely Armstrong and Walcott, will pick up spots between the wing and centre-backs and try to do damage from there.
What is Southampton's target for this season/where do you think they will finish?
After flirting with relegation for spells in previous seasons, the main aim now is make sure they are away from that group and start regularly competing in the middle group of teams. That way, they feel if some of the top sides have an off-season (which could well be happening this year), they can be ready to try and pounce and push towards the top six.
I think the next few weeks will be quite key to determining where they end up. Pretty much all season it’s been just one game a week, but with more games coming, more rotation will be needed so the depth of the squad will be tested.
I certainly think a top-half finish is realistic, I’d say maybe seventh or eighth.
Do you think having 2,000 fans inside St Mary's will give the Saints even more of an advantage on Sunday?
It will be interesting to see. Their form without fans has been remarkable, really, losing just five of 20 games behind-closed-doors.
That was after a poor run just before lockdown as well. Also only Norwich had a worse home record than Saints last season.
Hasenhuttl has spoken already about the advantage of his players being able to hear him coaching them from the touchline with no fans. I think whilst it is 2,000 that should still be possible, but it will be intriguing to see if there is a longer term benefit or not.
Obviously for the fans and the players though, it will be a great thing to see some back in at St Mary’s on Sunday.
Southampton v Sheffield United kicks off at noon and is live on Sky Sports.
You can also follow the game on our LIVE matchday blog, which will bring you all the latest updates, in-game reaction and post-match analysis from James Shield and Danny Hall.
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