A Manchester United rearguard defy the Saints

Romelu Lukaku secured Manchester United a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Southampton as Jose Mourinho’s men managed to batten down the hatches after half-time.

Seven months on from edging an entertaining EFL Cup final against Saints, United arrived at St Mary’s looking to maintain their fine start to the campaign against a team struggling for coherence and goals on home turf.

United were made to sweat as Mauricio Pellegrino’s men launched wave after wave of attacks in the second period but Lukaku’s first-half goal was enough to secure a win that takes them to a club record-equalling 16 points at this stage of a Premier League season.

SouMan

Stuttering Starts

Manchester United would not remember their last trip to St Mary’s too fondly as Mourinho had already started to concentrate on the Europa League, with a bland goalless draw leaving both sides unsatisfied. Similar problems were seen in the first twenty minutes as United struggled to get active with Southampton seeing more of the ball. But as so often this season, Lukaku’s clinical finishing created the breakthrough as his header was blocked by Forster – only to be palmed back to the striker who made sure the second chance counted.

A close freekick shot from Rashford aside, there was not much goal threat for either side in a mainly possession play of a first half. De Gea was left with little to do as Matic and Fellaini ensured all the Saints possession led to little sight of goal, and United went into half time with a slight lead.

A Long Day

A yellow card. An injury and left isolated up front. Shane Long was probably the most industrious of his team mates and in the second half he and Southampton really started threatening as United started concentrating on the counter attack through Rashford. The problem was in the finishing, and by placing more people around Long leaving so few behind was always going to prove a dangerous gamble as they searched for a way back.

Thankfully Southampton managed to overrun United in midfield and the Devils defence barely managed to survive a period of intense scrutiny from the opposition attack – in part thanks to some shocking finishing and in part due to some excellent positioning by Fellaini who managed to clear a ball off the line.

The March of the Saints?

Both teams decided on new shapes with substitutions. A front two for Southampton while a back five for United as Southampton put the drive into their attack. And attack they did. Gabbiadini would have provided some bad memories for United with his double goal barrage in the EFL final – and came close with the ball rolling past the net with De Gea stranded. On the other side, Herrera had a chance to close it off but missed from close range. Possession was all Southampton’s but the finishing was frustrating their supporters and manager Pelligrino to no end

Despite all the chances and Mourinho becoming more and more defensive with the team, United managed to finish the match with a win with their manager being sent off to the stands in the closing seconds.

Star of the Day

Marouane Fellani. Asked to come into the first team in place of the charismatic Paul Pogba who got injured and continuously a controversial figure among the Old Trafford faithful due to his ties to the Moyes era – and a limited range of attack. But the display today shows why he is so highly rated by most managers who have presided over him. Attack or Defense, he was there to capitalize on every chance. Especially during a tense second half, he headlined the back four and even saved a certain goal. With Pogba soon to come back and the universally more beloved Herrera waiting in the wings, such displays reminded everyone why he proves to be a wonderful addition to the Manchester United line-up.

Reflections

Winning in matches you should lose is something good teams are known for, and the Red Devils did that today. Manchester United were second best for almost the entire match but managed to finish with a win, and the Saints will be wondering what to do as they remained without a goal despite all the possession. Next up for United is Crystal Palace who are still at the bottom after a drubbing from United’s blue neighbours while Southampton would look to score for only the second match in the League this season against Stoke.

Tweet of the match

Special Mention – Romelu Lukaku

The striker secured all three points by scoring the game’s only goal and, on an afternoon when United struggled to convince, was a consistent and effective focal point in the final third. In the same way he contributed so much on the rare occasions his team threatened, he occupied Southampton’s defence as they grew in confidence in pursuit of an equalising goal.

In with the crowd

Lukaku may have become the latest to discourage United’s supporters from using the controversial chant anti-discrimination group Kick It Out have described as “offensive and discriminatory” but it has not stopped them doing so. The lyrics used reference the size of the 24-year-old’s penis and were sung again after his first-half finish gave United the lead.

Data Point

Mauricio Pellegrino
(John Walton/Empics)

  • Last time Manchester United failed to score in the Premier League was against the same opposition at the same ground last season.
  • Lukaku continued his goal a game ratio for Manchester United. He now has the same number of goals as Louis Saha in his first six United Premier League matches which is a record for the club (6)
  • Southampton haven’t won a home game against Manchester United since 2003. They have won two games at Old Trafford during that time
  • After this match, Southampton have scored only once this season, with all of their goals coming in a 3-2 win against West Ham United
  • This was Southampton’s 11th league defeat of 2017, which equals their total throughout 2016 at a time when they are scheduled to play a further 15 fixtures.

Player ratings

Southampton: Fraser Forster: 7 (out of 10), Cedric Soares: 6, Maya Yoshida: 6, Wesley Hoedt: 6, Ryan Bertrand: 6, Oriol Romeu: 6, Mario Lemina: 7, Dusan Tadic: 7, Steven Davis: 6, Nathan Redmond: 5, Shane Long: 6. Substitutes: Manolo Gabbiadini (for Davis, 73mins): 5, Charlie Austin (for Long, 83mins): 5, James Ward-Prowse (for Cedric, 83mins): 5.Manchester United: David de Gea: 7, Antonio Valencia: 6, Eric Bailly: 6, Phil Jones: 7, Ashley Young: 7, Marouane Fellaini: 8, Nemanja Matic: 7, Juan Mata: 6, Henrikh Mkhitaryan: 6, Marcus Rashford: 7, Romelu Lukaku: 7. Substitutes: Ander Herrera (for Mata, 62mins): 5, Chris Smalling (for Mkhitaryan, 75mins): 5, Daley Blind (for Marcus Rashford, 90mins): 5.

Who’s up next?

Stoke v Southampton (Premier League, September 30)

CKSA Moscow v Manchester United (Champions League, September 27)

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Avishek Chatterjee

A Devil of reddish intent, waiting for a theatre to dream again while he writes and knows things.

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