Southampton v Man Utd: Forward thinking with 7/2 Walcott

Theo Walcott looks a big price to find the net in Sunday's opening Premier League game between Southampton and Manchester United, says Andy Schooler...

Southampton v Manchester United
Sunday 29 November, 14:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event

Which United will show up?

It's hard to figure out Manchester United at the moment.

That may seem a little strange when you consider they've actually won nine of the 14 games they've played so far this season but we've already seen a few occasions when an impressive performance - such as Tuesday's first-half demolition of Istanbul Basaksehir - has been followed by a slip in standards.

And their slips have been alarming ones, too. A 6-1 home defeat to Spurs showed up a defence which does look vulnerable, while the away game in Istanbul was a horror show at the back.

At least there has been some consistency on the road domestically, with all three Premier League away games so far won.

Yet that defensive weakness is highlighted by the fact that United conceded in each of those matches. The actually had to come from behind to win all three - that's a 9/1 shot here.

It did appear the back line would suffer another blow when both Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka came off on Tuesday but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expects both to be fit to play in this game.

The manager would have been pleased with the displays of new recruits Alex Telles and Donny van de Beek against Basaksehir. Both certainly did well enough to earn a starting spot at St Mary's and with Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay both ruled out - along with Paul Pogba - it would make sense for both to play.

Yet with PSG to come three days after this game, it's no given that the pair will be in Solskjaer's XI.

Saints on a roll

Southampton do not have such fixture concerns - they have an eight-day break after this one.

Injured top scorer Danny Ings could be back for their next game at Brighton but he'll miss out again here, as will Nathan Redmond.

But Saints have coped without Ings over the past couple of games, picking up four points out of six in his absence.

They are now unbeaten in seven, sitting fifth in the table and brimming with confidence.

Ralph Hasenhuttl likes his side to attack and I can't see them holding back here - the Austrian will be fully aware of United's frailty at the back and hasn't been afraid to have a go at them in the past.

He's faced United three times since arriving at St Mary's with two draws (1-1 and - most recently - 2-2) and a defeat (2-3).

A similar attack-minded battle can be expected here.

With Ings out, Theo Walcott has been handed a role in the centre of the Southampton attack and has continued his strong start to his second spell at the club.

He scored at Wolves last week (and should really have had a second) and his pace should trouble the visiting defence.

Walcott has linked up well with strike partner Che Adams and I suspect Hasenhuttl will be telling the pair to play passes over the top in bid to achieve the sort of success Harry Kane and Heung-min Son had at Old Trafford earlier in the season.

Value lies with hosts

In the match result market, that worry over consistency makes United look pretty short around the even-money mark.

To me, the value appears to lie with the Saints, who have won their last three at St Mary's without conceding a goal.

Admittedly, they will need to be tighter at the back than they were at Wolves on Monday but given their solid form of late, 4.0 looks worth a small-stakes play.

Goals on the cards

As that recent head-to-head suggests, goals appear likely.

United have landed the over 2.5 goals bet - 1.86 here - in all three away league games so far. Across the season as a whole, it's occurred in 11 of their 14 matches.

Southampton's stats aren't in the same bracket but keeping United out will likely prove more difficult than against Newcastle, West Brom and a below-strength Everton.

I'd expect over 2.5 to land but I'd be more inclined to back both teams to score at a slightly-shorter 1.74 given both sides have looked stronger in forward areas.

Walcott overpriced to score again

However, my second bet will be a small one on that man Walcott to get on the scoresheet again.

He's out at 7/2 to score at any time which looks big for a centre forward against a team who have looked vulnerable in defence.

Walcott has fired six shots away in his two games as Ings' replacement and while he's hardly renowned as a great finisher, he also rarely plays in areas which he's getting into right now.

The former England man always wanted to play more centrally in his early career and when he did get the opportunity at Arsenal, he often found the net.

Opta fact

Manchester United have won their last seven Premier League away games - they've never won eight in a row on the road in the top-flight before. Meanwhile, the Red Devils are looking to win their first four away games to a league season for the third time in their history, also doing so in 1913-14 and 1985-86.

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