Pogba to make United debut against Southampton

Celebrations after Ibrahimovic scores United's third (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Celebrations after Ibrahimovic scores United's third (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) /

Opening weekend of the Premier League was a rousing success for Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United redemption tour. Goals from Juan Mata, captain Wayne Rooney, and a Zlatan league debut effort that showed just why everyone should be thrilled to see him in the Prem saw United start the season with the greatest goal difference of any the weekend’s games.

On Friday they take on Southampton at the Theatre of Dreams. The Saints lost several key players over the summer, as Victor Wanyama, Gaston Ramirez, Sadio Mane, and Graziano Pelle all bid new manager Claudio Puel adieu. However, Southampton have made some classically shrewd signings, and while it’ll no doubt take them a while to find their groove, they could build a strong, cohesive unit. Players like James Ward-Prowse, Nathan Redmond, and Guardiola favourite Hojbjerg could keep this team highly competitive.

We will discover on Friday whether that unit is ready to take on a confident, rebuilding Manchester United.

Key battles:

Mourinho vs Puel
Hot off his opening win, Mourinho will be hoping to grab a second in his first competitive match at Old Trafford. Puel is also new to his club’s reigns, and after an underwhelming draw against Watford he’d love to get his season on to a better track with a giant-slaying in Manchester. In a season when managers have never been a bigger part of the narrative, each will have to be on top of their games to get a win here.

Jose Mourinho looks on during Bournemouth vs Manchester United (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Jose Mourinho looks on during Bournemouth vs Manchester United (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) /

Rooney vs everything
Since last weekend’s positive result, many have focused on arguably the most troubling negative in United’s side: The Wayne Rooney conundrum. “Shouldn’t he be in America by now?” ask many. While undeniably a club legend and a colossal figure in the dressing room, Rooney is now far from the best player on the pitch, and only succeeded in slowing down attacks last week. Then again, by the final whistle he had his name on the scoresheet, and if he can continue to do so there’s no reason he shouldn’t start. This season more than any other, he knows he must actually earn his place- and the massive pay cheque that comes with it.

Ibrahimovic vs Van Dyke
On paper, Southampton have one of the most impressive defenses in the league. Virgil Van Dijk played spectacularly last year, Cedric and Jose Fonte just won a European Cup with their defensive prowess, and Ryan Bertrand is a veteran of the English league. However, the back line, and specifically Van Dijk, will have their work cut out containing Ibrahimovic, who showed last week that at 34 he still has no problem making teams look silly.

Fonte vs Southampton
Pogba’s a done deal, but Premier League clubs still have two weeks to conduct transfer business. Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to add some extra weight and experience to his defence, and Southampton center back Jose Fonte seems to have bubbled to the top of the transfer bog. Mourinho turned compatriot veteran defender Pepe into a legend at Real Madrid, so maybe he sees a similar opportunity in Fonte. He didn’t play against Watford last weekend, presumably due to transfer rumours, so it’s unlikely we’ll see him start at Old Trafford. Not this week, anyway.

Luke Shaw vs Nathan Redmond
Southampton signed the pacey winger from Norwich this summer, and former Thierry Henry coach Claudio Puel is already making comparisons between the players. While undeniably raw, Redmond seems determined to give full backs across the league trouble this year. Luke Shaw is still regaining his fitness after last year’s season-ending injury, but has looked solid so far. It will be a battle between the two Englishmen for dominance on United’s left flank.

Luke Shaw challenges Jordon Ibe (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Luke Shaw challenges Jordon Ibe (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) /

Who will start?

Pogba may have been suspended for the Bournemouth game, but Mourinho has confirmed the world transfer record player will get some game time come Friday. He told MUTV that Pogba is ready to play, and would get “some minutes” in the inaugural Friday night game, and said:

“We played against Leicester with players with less training than [Pogba] and we look at that match as a way to improve them, to accelerate that process”

Juan Mata put in a good shift against the Cherries, so who will start on that right flank? With Lingard back from injury, and Mkhitaryan yet to start in the PL, there’s a lot of competition for the right hand side. Don’t be surprised to see Lingard making a substitute appearance later in the game to add some youthful dynamism.

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Equally interesting is the defensive selection, as Blind put in an impressive, calm performance alongside new star Bailly. Smalling is supposedly now back and fit, but will he be in good enough form to reclaim his spot in the side?

And as for the midfield, whether Pogba starts or comes on as a substitute, all eyes will be on him. Who will he be playing alongside as part of Mourinho’s system? Loathe him though I do, if Fellaini can play as well as he did against Bournemouth, Mourinho could have us speaking his name in the same sentences as that of Nemanja Matic come the end of the season.

Predicted XI: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw, Fellaini, Pogba, Rooney, Mata, Martial, Ibrahimovic

Manchester United may have been keen to remind their Twitter followers that they won convincingly fifteen years ago, but in more recent seasons Southampton have proven tricky customers.

Let’s hope that United can pull out a dominant performance for their first home match of the year.