Head-To-Head: Jose Mourinho vs Mauricio Pellegrino

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 29 December 2017, 15:15

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho may have been sent to the stands the last time his side took on Southampton, but the Portuguese Coach was in an entirely different mood back then.

It was September 23 and the Red Devils were unbeaten in the league as they travelled to the South coast, having beaten West Ham United, Swansea City and Everton by scoring four goals in each game.

A 1-0 win over the Saints was enough to continue their winning run, and Mou was happy to give his opposite number Mauricio Pellegrino a high-five on his way to the stands just before the final whistle was blown. A look at the league table three months later paints an entirely different picture however, with second-place United a staggering 15 points behind their blue neighbours after just 20 matches.

That carefree attitude has long since disappeared, the stress of being so far behind clear to see for a man that lives to win. “We are in the second year of trying to rebuild a team that is not one of the best in the world,” said Mourinho after a disappointing 2-2 draw with Burnley on Boxing Day. “It is not enough,” he continued when asked about the £300 million already invested in the squad. “City are buying full backs for the price of strikers.”

While significant January investment may go some way towards cheering Mourinho up, a win over a Southampton side that have plenty of problems of their own would at least mean that his side would finish 2017 on a better note. Not only have the Saints lost star defender Virgil Van Dijk to Liverpool for £75 million, but Pellegrino saw his side smashed by a rampant Tottenham over the festive period as they went down to a 5-2 defeat at Wembley.

The Argentine’s decision to use his preferred – but overly attacking – 4-2-3-1 system allowed Spurs to rip his team to shreds on the counter attack, but it seems likely that he will deploy the same system once again at Old Trafford. Such a setup looks set to allow wingers Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata a chance to push forward on the break, capitalising on the Saints’ penchant for committing individual errors.

While United have suffered some unexpected disappointments of late, Southampton have failed to win their last seven matches in the Premier League and now sit just two points above the relegation zone. Furthermore Pellegrino has never beaten his opposite number Mourinho in two previous attempts.

According to their Coach, Southampton look set to go back to basics following their defeat to Tottenham, as he stated his belief that his side can turn things around. "Manchester United are a powerful team, but we are in the moment that we have to think more about us and what we have to do on the pitch,” he told the Independent.

“This is our reality and can't talk about the other teams. Even for Manchester United it is difficult to win many games in a row because the Premier League is really competitive. Everybody is suffering this.”

He will have to plan his tactics around the injured Ryan Bertrand, Cedric Soares and Charlie Austin, while Mourinho has a significant injury list himself. Michael Carrick, Eric Bailly, Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia and Chris Smalling have all been confirmed as out of the match, whilst Matteo Darmian and Anthony Martial are both doubtful. But despite his complaints, the Manchester United man has plenty of options at his disposal as Jesse Lingard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan rumoured to be in with a chance of featuring for the Red Devils.

Perhaps both bosses could do with being a little more like each other – Mourinho having been criticised for negative tactics while the Saints boss came unstuck at Tottenham with an attacking approach – but whatever happens, just don’t expect any more high fives from Mou!


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Tony Pulis
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