Ashley Young injury deals blow to Manchester United's slim title hopes
Louis van Gaal believes a mounting defensive injury crisis could wreck Manchester United's slim hopes of forcing their way back into Barclays Premier League title contention.
Ashley Young has become the fourth United full-back to be ruled out due to injury and the Dutchman admits it will be "difficult" to plug the gap prior to the end of the transfer window.
Young requires surgery on a serious groin injury and could be ruled out for the rest of the season, joining Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo on the sidelines.
"Ashley Young has a severe groin injury, it shall be operated on, so he's [out] for a long time," Van Gaal said on the club's official website.
It means the likes of youngster Cameron Borthwick-Jackson will have a big role to play as United look to shrug off their problematic start to the season and close the gap on leaders Arsenal.
Speaking in his press conference, Van Gaal said: "I have used youngsters a lot of times and they are doing great but the level of Man United is high and to give a high performance every week is very difficult for the youngsters.
"That's why we have to look especially in the transfer period for replacements, but the difficulty is we ask for a level, so we are looking but it is not easy."
To make matters worse for Van Gaal, neither Bastian Schweinsteiger nor Phil Jones have completed their expected recoveries and are ruled out of Saturday's home clash with Southampton. Michael Carrick also misses out with a knee injury.
Van Gaal must hope his side's shortcomings can be made up for by the kind of spirit encapsulated in the recent re-emergence of Wayne Rooney.
Five goals in the last six games have turned around Rooney's problematic campaign and shown the leadership qualities his manager requires to keep the club in Champions League contention.
Van Gaal added: "Since Rooney has started scoring we have won our games and drawn at Newcastle away, so there is a parallel.
"I have said always that he is not only important as a player but as a captain so I am very happy with him.
"I think it is not only Wayne Rooney - there are several players doing that and that is what I want because the players themselves are responsible."
Ronald Koeman has a hat-trick of Premier League wins and an Old Trafford double in his sights.
Southampton have recovered from their recent sticky patch with comfortable back-to-back victories over Watford and West Brom, scoring five goals in the process while conceding none.
On Saturday they head to Manchester United, the scene of a memorable 1-0 win last season which was their first success at Old Trafford in 27 years.
Koeman remains wary of United, who despite their struggles this season kept themselves firmly in the hunt for a top-four finish with a 1-0 win at Liverpool last weekend.
But the Saints boss feels his side are capable taking three points to pile more pressure on United counterpart and fellow Dutchman Van Gaal.
"I don't talk too much about Manchester United because everybody is talking about Manchester United, and they had a big result last weekend," he said.
"They are strong. Maybe they don't score a lot of goals, but they don't concede a lot. It's difficult to beat United.
"They are a team with a lot of strengths but also a team with some weaknesses, and we know because earlier this season we were very close to having a better result than losing 3-2, and we have the experience of winning after 27 years at Old Trafford."
Saints' revival has been built on the foundations of a switch in formation to a back five.
Full-back Ryan Bertrand has impressed after moving inside as one of three central defenders, with youngster Matt Targett flourishing further forward at left wing-back.
"I put Ryan in that position in the last two games because then I have really a left foot when we like to build up," added Koeman.
"I was very happy with the way Targett trained and played in the under-21s. He's a young player and it's difficult for him because in front of him is an England international."
Koeman has added Charlie Austin to his squad following the striker's B£4million switch from QPR.
Graziano Pelle is a doubt with an ongoing knee problem while Jay Rodriguez (foot) and Florian Gardos (knee) are still on the sidelines.