Southampton host Manchester United at St Mary's in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon as Ralph Hasenhuttl's men seek to take advantage of the Red Devils' shock defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend.
The hosts will feel confident of causing an upset against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side after giving Liverpool a late scare in their last home league game, while United must see this game as an opportunity to demonstrate some maturity in the final third.
For the first part of the 2018-19 campaign, the Saints appeared to be genuine candidates for relegation as they languished at the foot of the Premier League table before Mark Hughes was eventually replaced by Hasenhuttl in December, setting in motion an uptick in form which ensured that the club finished last season five points clear of safety.
The former RB Leipzig boss has injected a new spirit and angle of vision since joining Southampton, encouraging full-backs to play a shaping role in attacks and championing technical players such as Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse, playing the pair in a more central role from which to construct attacks.
Some have compared Hasenhuttl's general approach to that of Jurgen Klopp's "heavy metal" philosophy, and while that tempo and thrust did not always manifest itself last season, there is something quite stirring about when all the moving parts combine to pick apart teams with precise counterattacks. Home wins over Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur served as examples of this method paying off over the past year.
However, although Southampton's attacking prowess has improved since Hughes departed, question marks remain over the discipline of their back four, which not too long ago contained established talents like Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk.
The side now has a young defence, with full-backs Kevin Danso and Yan Valery - the latter scored a stunning goal at Old Trafford last season - both aged just 20 and Jan Bednarek relatively inexperienced having only made 24 appearances in the league for Southampton since joining the club two years ago.
Such naivety came to a head during Southampton's opening game of the season at Turf Moor against Burnley, with Sean Dyche's men scoring three unanswered goals in 12 minutes as the visitors lost their shape and aggression against a fitter, more physical team in the second half. Hasenhuttl, a strong exponent of hitting teams with a pressing style, would have been furious to see his team's fitness levels so obviously superseded.
That said, the team demonstrated its better side during their last Premier League outing, a composed 2-0 win away at Brighton and Hove Albion, during which new signing Moussa Djenepo, signed from Standard Liege for £13.5m, scored from the bench to seal the result.
Should they begin the game at a ferocious pace, catching United's occasionally slow midfield off guard, the Saints will feel that they can cause a number of problems against a side whose mentality came under question against Palace.
Recent Premier League form: LLW
Recent form (all competitions): LLWW
If the opening weekend 4-0 win over Chelsea served as an example of what this young United team could offer further down the line, the defeat at home to Palace was a scathing indicator of where they are now.
The attack, although often dangerous on the counter, once again came up short against a team playing a low block deep in its own half, with Solskjaer's men unable to engineer the pace and execution needed to create clear openings in a congested box.
Indeed, while the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Daniel James have all looked lethal breaking on opponents, their lack of sophisticated decision making at close-quarters is a big concern, and one which has loomed over the club since the days of Louis van Gaal.
Solskjaer desperately needs the aforementioned quartet, along with the youthful exuberance of Mason Greenwood and Angel Gomes, to start hitting their rhythm soon due to the simple fact that he has no other options to call on, with Romelu Lukaku joining Inter Milan and Alexis Sanchez on the verge of heading in the same direction.
United's defence, on the other hand, appears to be making some progress following years of chopping and changing under previous administrations. Solskjaer has made his vision very clear: a back four containing Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw, while the likes of Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are being slowly phased out.
Against Wolverhampton Wanderers, who dragged United all over the place at the Molineux on two occasions last season, there was much more stability and balance about the defence, a refusal to be flustered like they have been before, which laid the foundation to create chances on the break which the Red Devils failed to capitalise on.
Should they produce a similarly authoritative defensive display, United will fancy their chances of frustrating the hosts and finding gaps through which to feed attacking players after Southampton commit players forward, as Hasenhuttl will expect them to do.
United have still not won an away game since that famous night in Paris back in March, and Solskjaer will know that failing to end that poor run - seven games in total - this weekend will only intensify talk surrounding United's struggles after just four league games.
Recent Premier League form: WDL
Hasenhuttl has suffered a pair of costly blows to his attack for this game, with the talismanic Redmond ruled out with an ankle problem sustained against Fulham in the Carabao Cup during the week. Djenepo, too, will miss the game because of a muscular injury.
The pair are expected to return after the international break, while Ryan Bertrand looks set to recover from an ankle injury and slot back into the defence, although Michael Obafemi is a serious doubt after cramping up in the last game.
For Solskjaer, the loss of Luke Shaw to injury constitutes a seismic blow to the ferocity and efficiency of United's back four, who are always much more energised with the Englishman, whose hamstring injury is set to keep him out for a month.
Full-back Diogo Dalot has also been ruled out for this game having not featured at all this season, with the Portuguese youngster expected to return after the international break.
Martial is also a doubt following a knock picked up against Palace, and is set to be assessed closer to the time before Solskjaer makes a final decision. Eric Bailly, out until Christmas, is the only long-term absentee.
Southampton possible starting lineup:
Gunn; Valery, Bednarek, Vestegaard, Bertrand; Romeu, Hojberg, Ward-Prowse; Boufal, Adams, Ings
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Young; McTominay, Pogba, Pereira, Lingard, James, Rashford
Head To Head
United were lucky to come away with just a 2-2 draw in the same fixture at St Mary's last season having produced a weak performance, and had to rely on a late Lukaku goal to beat them at home in March.
Indeed, St Mary's has often proved to be a location where United play poorly but manage to secure a result: a 1-0 win in 2017 under Jose Mourinho, a pair of victories under Louis van Gaal despite conceding numerous chances, and that remarkable 3-2 win in 2012 secured by a Robin van Persie hat-trick.
You would have to go back to 2003 for the last time United lost away to Southampton, although the former did claim a pair of 1-0 wins at Old Trafford in consecutive seasons under Ronald Koeman in 2015 and 2016.
We say: Southampton 1-2 Manchester United
The Saints will no doubt come flying out of the blocks for this game, putting United's defence under early pressure, but you suspect that the injuries to Redmond and Djenepo will notably hamper the thrust behind their attacks.
While the home side are likely to score, United's ability to play on the break, combined with a determination to bounce back from losing to Palace, makes Solskjaer's men slight favourites for the game.
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