Weblog: The football punter

Manchester United can finish the year in style

BT Sport 1, 5.30pm Saturday

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has complained he needs more money to challenge for the Premier League title but the poor paupers of Old Trafford should be able to see off Southampton with the minimum of fuss despite their Scrooge-like spending since the Portuguese boss arrived.

How on earth can you expect to compete with an outlay of just £286m since the summer of 2016? asked Mourinho - and with a straight face too.

Mourinho, almost certainly, was just trying to deflect attention away from United's poor festive period, although they are still second in the Premier League, albeit 15 points off Manchester City.

That still makes United legitimate strong odds-on favourites to overcome Southampton and those looking for more juice in the price could consider backing the hosts to hit the front before half-time.

It's a bet which would have copped in eight of United's last ten league wins, including the 1-0 success at St Mary's when Romelu Lukaku's goal separated the sides.

Lukaku has scored just three league goals since the start of October, although two of those were hugely significant in single-goal triumphs over Bournemouth and West Brom.

Didi Hamann: I’m a layer of Manchester United against most teams at the moment

Maybe Mourinho is right that Lukaku needs a rest at some stage and he is definitely on to something in claiming that United should have beaten Leicester and Burnley in their recent 2-2 draws.

There was less to like about the League Cup exit at Bristol City, but any vulnerability in the Red Devils is unlikely to be pounced upon by a Saints side in serious need of a shake-up.

Teams that are too good to go down have been relegated in the past so 19 points from 20 matches must have Southampton's decision-makers feeling nervous.

Their best player, centre-back Virgil van Dijk, is off to Liverpool soon and top goalscorer Charlie Austin is sidelined, leaving Saints lacking in both boxes, while questions continue to be asked regarding the suitability of manager Mauricio Pellegrino.

With Van Dijk not being selected and full-backs Cedric and Ryan Bertrand injured it won't be easy to put in the kind of resilient performance which almost claimed a point at Manchester City last month.

Even on that occasion City forced 12 shots on target from 74 per cent possession and Chelsea had eight shots on goal in their recent 1-0 win over a Southampton side who pretty much failed to show up at Wembley on Tuesday when losing 5-2 against Tottenham.

The back four of Wesley Hoedt, Maya Yoshida, Jack Stephens and Matt Target was not up to the task of keeping out one of England's elite attacks and a trip to another member of the big six is not ideal so soon after the mauling at Spurs.

United are not at their best but the likes of Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial can show Mourinho there remains plenty of potential in the home squad.

Man Utd-Man Utd double result

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Match in Focus


Ireland v Wales

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Ireland have won one of their last eight matches.
Expert verdict
Ireland were held to a dull 0-0 draw by a Denmark team missing Christian Eriksen on Saturday and may suffer another stalemate against Wales in Dublin. Only a victory would breathe life into Ireland's hopes of winning League B, Group 4 but they are hard to fancy, having failed of win any of their last four competitive games.