Well that didn’t actually work out to be so bad did it? May has long gone and what seemed to be months ahead of nothingness have passed, quite quickly in my opinion, and here we are at the beginning of another Premier League season.
We start at home this season against a Southampton side who were amongst one of the surprise packages of last season. Ronald Koeman, in his first full Premier League campaign guided the Saints to an impressive 7th placed finish which has seen them participate in the qualifying rounds for the Europa League – a feat even more impressive when you look at the changes in personnel that took place last summer at St Mary’s Stadium.
While Saints fans will be looking to replicate a memorable and unexpected season, United fans will be less than willing to replicate the events of last season which saw us escape relegation by the skin of our teeth on the final day of the season following a rather timely 2-0 victory over West Ham United at St James’ Park.
It was the opinion that we required investment at the end of last term, and to a degree we’ve had that. In have come Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba while, as yet anyway, none of our first-team players have been sold. We also have a new Head Coach/Manager/Director or whatever in the form of Steve McClaren who will be taking charge of a Premier League side for the first time since departing Middlesbrough for the England team in 2006.
Fabricio Coloccini has recently signed a new deal with United and so, as Captain, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t start although I’d be equally surprised if he lasted the full 90 minutes after sitting out all of pre-season. Who partners him is the question?
Chancel Mbemba could be in line to make a debut pending receipt of a work permit, or it could be Steven Taylor or Mike Williamson and there’s a case for each of them to be honest. While Mbemba looks to be the long term option it’s perhaps expecting too much for him to slot into the Premier League at the age of 20 (or 24, or 34) with roughly 30 minutes of pre-season under his belt. Steven Taylor is arguably more solid than Mike Williamson although choosing between the pair as a defensive partner is a bit like choosing a favourite testicle.
While Williamson is not the greatest and has, ahem limitations, I do feel the barracking he has been on the end of is harsh. It’s not his fault he is not at the level required – it’s the clubs for allowing it to happen and at least he gives his all. Steven Taylor can be a solid defender on his day but there’s always a clanger in his locker and he’s prone to long term injuries.
Moving into midfield now and Cheik Tiote is back in training but is unlikely to feature unless it’s from the bench. Siem de Jong will probably play second fiddle to Georginio Wijnaldum with Vurnon Anota and Jack Colback playing deeper roles. Arguably the player of pre-season – Rolando Aarons may start in the left leaving Moussa Sissoko out on the right.
Up front the choice is simple – Papiss Cisse or Aleksandar Mitrovic although I’d like to see the pair of them play together.
Fraser Forster remains sidelined through injury with Gaston Ramirez, Ryan Bertrand and Florin Gardos also out through injury. Shane Long and Jordy Clasie are doubtful but have not been ruled out. Another of the Saints contingent missing out will be Manager Ronald Koeman who has undergone surgery on his Achilles and will not travel to Tyneside.
Sounthampton warmed up for the trip to Tyneside by beating Vitesse Arnhem 2-0 in Holland on Thursday sealing a 5-0 aggregate victory in their Europa League qualifier.
Southampton did the double over us last season beating us 4-0 at St Mary’s and winning the return fixture at St James’ Park by a score of 2-1. In fact you need to go back to February 2013 to find our last victory against the Saints with our winless run extending to four games since that 4-2 victory.
However as fixtures go this is one that has very much been dominated by the home side over the years. As we’re at home I’ll look at our record, naturally. Of the 40 games played on Tyneside it is United who come out on winning on 29 occasions, Southampton have won on five occasions with six draws making up the numbers.
Overall it’s United who shade the head-to-head having won 34 of the 80 matches contested between the sides. Southampton have won 29 times with 17 draws.
Stats and facts:
Premier League openers are not generally great days for Southampton as they’ve win just twice in 16 opening day attempts. It’s not much better for United who have won seven in 21 attempts.
Newcastle have failed to score on four of the last five opening matches of a Premier League season.
United do however have a chance to record back-to-back wins since November 2014.
The Saints have not won away in the Premier League in the last seven attempts. Six of those matches ended in defeat.
Their last away victory came at QPR back in February.
We’ve invested a fair amount in three players but it’s important not to expect too much from them immediately. Remember they are all new to the Premier League and may not adjust immediately so if they don’t score a hat-trick on their debut it doesn’t mean they should be written off. Likewise should they have a good game it doesn’t mean that they should be awarded an elevated status with higher expectations.
A lot of people have judged us on pre-season results and performances. Personally I’ve not really batted an eyelid – remember last season we had a decent pre-season and look how that shaped the campaign! The time for looking at things properly is now and that starts against Southampton.
Mike Ashley’s words mean little to me but to be fair we’ve got a recognised Manager in and have spent some considerable cash (by Ashley’s standards) on some highly-rated players so I’m prepared to see how it turns out. Do we need more? The answer from me will always be yes, but lets gauge where the current influx of new blood has take us first.
Howay the lads!
Date: Sunday, 9th August, 2015
Venue: St James’ Park