Southampton versus Manchester United: Combined XI


Not so long ago, you would have stepped foot into barren land if you ever thought this subject could elicit meaningful debate.

It would have been quite preposterous to think this point of discussion would ever possibly enter the realm of footballing deliberation; a combined eleven between Southampton and Manchester United.

After all, Manchester United are one of football’s biggest, most illustrious clubs. Even calling it a club is severely undervaluing the prestige. Their cavernous history is soaked by silverware and is brimming with chapters of immortal tales.

What Southampton have achieved is quite the drop in the ocean in comparison. Finding similarities is often found to be few and far between and even stating one can border on fanciful.

If Southampton are factory workers, Manchester United are the monarchy. The gulf in wealth, status and resources remains startling to this day.

However, Saints’ small step into barren wasteland has been markedly more fertile in recent times. Despite the ever widening wrestling of power between the pair off the field, things have proved rather close on it.

Last season, their two meetings yielded two draws. On both occasions, the lower-class, more streetwise workers managed to outhustle and overwhelm their royal counterparts and were unfortunate certain rulings in the matches didn’t go their way.

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There is a case that since those fixtures, the gap in footballing regimen has narrowed once more. Southampton are a progressive, intuitive side that has found a distinct collective and holistic approach to success. They may not be as rich with individual talent, but they prove time and time again that the old adage of football being a team game remains tremendously apt.

Meanwhile, Manchester United’s institutional aura is dissolving with every passing season. The aura Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson established is steadily disintegrating. Problems are obvious and instead of addressing them, United’s board continually prefer to kick the can down the road.

So with all that being said, this particular debate is more relevant than ever. The question of who gets in a combined XI between Southampton and Manchester United players is a genuine, worthwhile footballing matter.

For argument’s sake, the employed formation will be a hybrid of 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, with both teams currently adopting formations with similar nuances in positioning – eg; two central midfielders.


David de Gea

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Alex McCarthy has been in excellent form this season, keeping four clean sheets in nine games. The 30-year-old  has shown unquestionable improvements with his feet and is much more proficient at sweeping up-behind Ralph Hasenhuttl’s high line.

But it is impossible to not have De Gea between the sticks. Despite a dip in performance over the last two years, De Gea has shown glimmers of his former self this campaign, even with a shaky back-line in front of him. The Spaniard had long been one of the world’s leading goalkeepers before his decline and has recently looked to have banished any lingering demons.


Kyle Walker-Peters & Ryan Bertrand

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This may come as a surprise. Since Project Restart, Walker-Peters has been one of Saints’ standout performers, playing an integral part in tightening up a creaking right-hand channel and offering transparency going forward. Though Aaron Wan-Bissaka is an outstanding one vs one defender, Walker-Peters has shown to be the more refined in his overall game this season.

Let’s say this straight and with a dead-pan expression. Ryan Bertrand is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League. He’s unwaveringly consistent, a wise-head within a youthful squad and is one of the leader’s in Hasenhuttl’s dark arts. It is understood a new contract should be coming his way soon, too.

Bertrand is in ahead of Luke Shaw – who still plays with a handbrake on – and Alex Telles, who hasn’t played enough yet.


Jannik Vestergaard & Victor Lindelof

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Vestergaard has been a revelation this season for Southampton. He has been essential in Saints’ playing out from the back and is finally showing the commanding, domineering side all supporters have desperately wanted eked out of him. Harry Maguire has shown far too many fragilities to be a £85 million pound centre-back and the game on Sunday could expose his weaknesses further – keep an eye on Stuart Armstrong and Theo Walcott when Maguire is isolated.

This writer would have chosen Axel Tuanzebe had he played more, but Victor Lindelof gets in after a solid recovery in form. Lindelof is an adept vertical passer through the lines which gives him the nod over Jan Bednarek, of whom is unlucky to miss out.

Central midfield

James Ward-Prowse & Fred

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Don’t let James Ward-Prowse’s son-in-law appearance fool you, he is a niggly little so and so. Perfect for Hasenhuttl football. The Saints captain is a free-kick taking, all-action, all conquering machine and is coming good after years tucked away as the understudy to Southampton’s former, much louder personalities.

Oriol Romeu was rightly rewarded with a new deal last week after making marked adaptations to his game. But Fred gets the nod for being the glue in United’s ever-changing midfield. He’s quick, a good moving-tackler and is getting better at passing forward.

Paul Pogba prefers to play with a Basketball sleeve on and Nemanja Matic sometimes has the turning circle of a slow-moving cruise-liner. Both are sat on the bench for this one.


Stuart Armstrong & Marcus Rashford

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This is where things get a little hazy. Southampton play with two number 10’s, as opposed to two conventional widemen. For clarity purposes, Stuart Armstrong will be played on the right side of the triumvirate that is behind the forward. The Scot adds subtlety and layers to Southampton’s attack, drifting across the park with balletic ease and producing the monstrous energy which is so conducive to Saints’ trigger-pressing system.

Juan Mata plays on rewind in games with any tempo and Daniel James often forgets the ball when he’s running. That’s why Armstrong is plumped for selection.

Nathan Redmond and Moussa Djenepo have lost their way in recent times, which leaves Marcus Rashford on the left. Rashford is often hit and miss with his end product but is a constant in boss Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer’s unstable plans.

Number 10/second striker

Bruno Fernandes 

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Bruno Fernandes. Six goals, three assists. Perhaps the only player in Manchester United’s side that could hold his own in the 1999 and 2008 Champions League winning teams. Need I say much more?


Che Adams

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In ordinary times, Danny Ings would have been the clear as day pick. But he’s still nursing an injury to his left knee and should be back in mid-to-late December. Despite the quirky idiosyncrasies of Che Adams’ shooting style, no other player has made the dramatic levels of improvements than he has. Not only has the forward registered three goals and three assists in the last six games, his approach to the team’s build-up play has been remarkable.

Adams’ can drop-in, run in-behind and is an all round nuisance for defenders. Continue this type of form and surely an England call-up is not out of the question. That is if Gareth Southgate doesn’t select a 49th defender to complete his 23-man squad.

Edinson Cavani is still a prolific poacher but is far into being on the wrong side of 30 and is still adapting to England. Anthony Martial blows hot and cold and his contribution this season is actually quite numbing, with zero goals scored in the league. But the Frenchmen can turn it on effortlessly when he wants to, and you wouldn’t be surprised if he did this weekend.

Result: Southampton 6 – 5 Manchester United

Judging by the result, that previously barren step into cavernous wasteland is actually a gentle saunter into pastures new.

Follow @J_Tanswell on Twitter at St Mary’s as Southampton take on Manchester United this Sunday, 2pm kick-off. 

About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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