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Morgan Schneiderlin: Analysing His Manchester United Start Ahead Of Southampton Return

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Ahead of Morgan Schneiderlin’s return to Southampton on Super Sunday, Nick Wright assesses the midfielder’s start to life at Manchester United…

Two months after swapping Southampton for Manchester United, Morgan Schneiderlin is preparing for a return to St Mary’s Stadium. Luke Shaw’s broken leg has denied him a south-coast homecoming for the second consecutive season, but for the midfielder it promises to be an emotional occasion.

Schneiderlin spent seven years with the Saints, helping them climb up from the depths of League One and establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s most coveted midfielders. He reacted angrily to being denied a move away from the club last summer, but the ill-feeling was short-lived as he came back into the side to inspire their seventh-placed finish under Ronald Koeman.

“He was very professional in the way he got his head down last season after being denied a move,” Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier told Sky Sports. “The fans appreciated that and nobody begrudged him that move when United came in with another good bid.”

That “good bid” amounted to £25m, making him the ninth most expensive Premier League mover of the transfer window. With such a hefty fee comes considerable expectation, but Schneiderlin is unfazed. “I know there is a lot of expectation, but there must be in this type of club,” he told Sky Sports last week. “I cannot wait to play my best game and win titles.”

So, how has United’s new No 28 fared in his new surroundings? The early signs have been encouraging. Bastian Schweinsteiger was preferred for United’s clashes with Liverpool and PSV Eindhoven, but Schneiderlin could return to the side on his old stomping ground this weekend.

“Morgan has settled in alright at United and will improve as he gradually feels more comfortable in the side,” added Sky Sports pundit Le Tissier. “There’s certainly plenty of competition for places in central midfield at United but I believe he’ll make that position his own.”

Schneiderlin was ever-present as United kept consecutive clean sheets against Tottenham, Aston Villa and Newcastle, and the stats illustrate he has shielded the United back four as effectively as he did at Southampton – whose defensive record last season was the second-best in the Premier League.

Schneiderlin has averaged 3.6 tackles and 2.8 interceptions per game for United compared to 3.7 and 2.6 in 2014/15. He had a more difficult time in their 2-1 defeat to Swansea, but his distribution has been consistently reliable, with a pass completion rate of 90.2 second only to Michael Carrick at the club, and marginally higher than last season.

The 25-year-old has also added energy and mobility to United’s midfield. His relentless running was a feature of Southampton’s playing style throughout his time at the club, and he has offered more of the same at United. He ran a whopping 12.69km in the 1-0 win over Aston Villa last month – the second-highest distance covered by any player in a Premier League game this season.

Schneiderlin’s blend of craft and quality were evident the last time United and Southampton met in January at Old Trafford, as he and Victor Wanyama blunted the Red Devils’ threat at the base of the Saints’ midfield to clinch a 1-0 win.

But while Schneiderlin’s destroyer qualities have shone through at United, there have also been certain changes to his role. The French international had attacking responsibilities at Southampton, but in Louis van Gaal’s side he has been rather more limited.

His number of key passes per game has fallen from 0.8 to 0.4, and his shots per game have dropped from 1.2 to 0.4. Interestingly, his average number of passes has also dropped from 61.2 to 52.8. In an interview with French magazine So Foot this week, Schneiderlin explained his new role. “I have to protect my defence,” he said. “I have a pivoting role with Michael Carrick, who is a great player with the ball and knows how to dictate the game.

“After that, we have four great players ahead of us, so we’re more there for support, to feed them, and leaving them to do their magic. With time, I’ll start shooting from distance again, but the most important for us is to not concede any goals, meaning that we only need to score one to get the three points.”

Those comments say a lot about Van Gaal’s philosophy. One goal is enough. Every player has his function. Schneiderlin was effective at both ends for his former club, but for United his sole focus is providing a sturdy defensive platform for their attackers.

Schneiderlin is sorely missed at Southampton, who have only won one of their opening five games, but on Super Sunday he will hope to make his presence felt in a way St Mary’s has come to expect from him. This time, however, he will be lining up on the opposite side.