Manchester United v Southampton: Mourinho the Grinch can find some Christmas cheer at last

United boss Jose Mourinho has not had a happy Christmas
United boss Jose Mourinho has not had a happy Christmas
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Andrew Atherley expects United to hit their stride on Saturday to gain a first win of the festive period...

"Mourinho's side have scored at least two goals in six of their last eight games against teams outside the top five and their shots figures indicate they are capable of a wide-margin win."

Recommended Bet
Back United off -1.5 on Asian handicap at 2.021/1

Man Utd v Southampton
Saturday 30 December, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 1

Mourinho plays The Grinch

Jose Mourinho has played the role of The Grinch this Christmas after the 2-1 defeat at Bristol City in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals was followed by 2-2 draws against Leicester away and Burnley at home.

"Lots of 's' goals against," complained Mourinho, adding that he didn't need to say the other letters of that word. It wasn't a happy Christmas for the United boss.

United are still second but Manchester City are disappearing ever further over the horizon, now 15 points in front, and Mourinho's old club Chelsea are only a point behind in third.

Winless in seven

Southampton haven't had a good Christmas either, drawing 1-1 at home to Huddersfield and then being overrun in a 5-2 defeat by Tottenham at Wembley on Boxing Day.

Mauricio Pellegrino's side are winless in seven matches and have slid to 14th, only two points above the relegation zone.

The mood among Saints fans won't have been improved by the news that Virgil Van Dijk is on his way to Liverpool, even if that move has seemed inevitable for months, and questions will be asked about whether Pellegrino is the right man to spend the significant funds now available.

Tough for Saints

For all of Mourinho's moaning, United's dropped points over Christmas came against top-half teams - as it stands, Burnley and Leicester are the best teams outside the big six.

Given that perspective, United's results have not deviated far from the norm for title challengers. The problem for Mourinho is that City are far beyond normal and the leaders' extraordinary winning run has taken them to a whole new level.

United's record against bottom-half teams is W8 D1 L1 and at home they have won five out of five. They scored four goals in the first three of those home wins but the last two have been only 1-0, reflecting a drop-off in the form of main striker Romelu Lukaku.

The reverse fixture at St Mary's ended 1-0 to United but belief in Pellegrino's defensive approach seems to have ebbed away in the three months since then and Southampton could easily collapse again if they do not plug the gaps they left against Tottenham.

The Saints' record against top-half teams is W1 D1 L8 and the victory came against Everton when David Unsworth was caretaker manager.

Huddersfield in 11th are the highest-placed team who have given up a home point to Southampton and it would be a major upset if United did not win here.

Difficult call

On the goals front much depends on whether United give away any more 's' goals. Six of their 10 clean sheets have resulted in games with under 2.5 goals but the last seven games where the opposition scored went over 2.5 goals.

It's a difficult call, especially given Southampton's defensive approach, but the impression is that United have goals in them, having had 15 shots against Leicester and 13 against Burnley.

United could win big

The most appealing bet is United to beat the Asian handicap of -1.5 at 2.021/1. Mourinho's side have scored at least two goals in six of their last eight games against teams outside the top five and their shots figures indicate they are capable of a wide-margin win like the ones that punctuated their early home form.

Unless Pellegrino changes game plan, Southampton don't offer much going forward and their defensive cohesion has come unstuck, with no clean sheet in their last 11 games.

Ref Watch

Craig Pawson has taken charge of some important matches this season, most recently the Merseyside derby and Man City v Tottenham, and his card counts tend to be high. He was the ref for the reverse fixture and issued five yellow cards.

Opta Stat
The Red Devils have kept a clean sheet in each of their last three Premier League games against Southampton, after a run of nine games without one. United are 1.865/6 to win to nil.

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