Sir Alex Ferguson has taken a strong squad South for this afternoon’s FA Cup fourth round tie at League One Southampton. Mindful of last season’s early exit, the Manchester United manager is set on an easy passage through to the fifth round in a competition that the Reds have not won in more than six years now.
Edwin van der Sar will not feature, Patrice Evra is missing following a family bereavement, Rio Ferdinand is injured and Rafael da Silva will miss the game following his concussion against Blackpool on Tuesday but most of Ferguson’s big guns travel. Still, it is likely the Scot will make significant changes to the United team that came from two goals down against the seasiders during the week.
Indeed, after another horrendous Wayne Rooney performance and a fine Javier Hernández goal against Blackpool, United’s £30 million striker may well be under threat. Fringe players such as Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Gabriel Obertan and Darron Gibson could also feature.
Michael Carrick is also available following injury, while Anderson could feature after missing out during midweek.
There could also be a debut for £4 million Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, who officially joined during the winter transfer window. The 26-year-old was on United’s bench for the trip to Blackpool and will compete with Tomasz Kuszazck for a place in Ferguson’s first XI.
“Michael will train today and hopefully he will be okay to travel,” Ferguson said on Friday.
“We picked up one or two bruises at Blackpool the other night – it was quite a physical game, but we’ll still take a strong squad because it won’t be an easy match; away games in cup ties never are.
“I went to see Southampton play Oldham earlier this month and they won 6-0. They’re having a good season. They play good football and I’m sure they’ll have a go.”
The Saints, who dropped out of the Premier League fives years ago, are now own by the estate of late Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr, whose dream was to take the South coast club back into the top flight. Indeed, with Southampton now riding high in League One there is some light at the end of a very dark tunnel. The club is fortunate to still exist after falling into administration two years ago, for which the Football League administered a 10 point penalty.
Manager Nigel Adkins, who took over in September following a highly successful spell in charge of Scunthorpe United in the Championship, now has his side playing attractive attacking football in the Southampton tradition, with the club on course for a place in the League One play-offs come May.
In Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the Saints have in-demand talents. Indeed, if tabloid rumours carry any weight, Ferguson is interested in midfielder Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has burst onto the scene this season. Son of former professional Mark Chamberlain, the teenager may command a £10 million fee, with Arsenal also in the hunt. Having lost out to Arsenal for Cardiff teenager Aaron Ramsey, Ferguson’s determination to land Oxlade-Chamberlain may win the day.
Meanwhile, Adkins Saints could be without captain Dean Hammond, who has a calf problem, and Lallana, who has missed two matches with a knee injury.
Nobody at United is taking Southampton for granted though, especially given the lengthy time since the club last won England’s premier cup competition.
“The manager has already had a little word with us over the last couple of days in training telling us how frustrated he is that he has not been able to get his hands on the trophy,” said defender Smalling, who is likely to start.
“We will be going all out for him and ourselves, and hopefully we can impose our presence on the game nice and early.
“Some people make changes in the FA Cup and view it different ways, but it’s an important competition to us and one we want to win.”
More than three thousand travelling Reds will attest to that, and with United on a five-match winning sequence against the Saints in all competitions confidence is surely high. Little chance then of Southampton repeating the club’s most famous win, at Wembley in 1976 when the Saints beat United 1-0 – via Bobby Stokes much-debated – to win the FA Cup.
Southampton – 442 – Davis; Richardson, Dickson, Fonte, Harding; Jaidi, Guly, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Schneiderlin; Chaplow, Lambert. Subs from: Bialkowski, Butterfield, Martin, Seaborne, Gobern, Barnard, Doble
United – 442 – Lindegaard; Fabio da Silva, Vidic, Smalling, O’Shea; Nani, Carrick, Anderson, Obertan; Hernández, Berbatov. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Evans, Brown, Gibson, Owen, Bébé, Giggs, Fletcher, Rooney.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistant referees: Simon Beck and Mike Mullarkey
Fourth official: Kevin Friend
Southampton – WWWWDL
United – DWWWWW