3 things we learned from Manchester United’s nervy 2-1 win over Southampton
The Red Devils weren’t great. They weren’t even good. But Southampton gifted them goals and couldn’t take their chances.
Manchester United have established themselves in the top four, while Southampton are on the outside looking in for the first time this season. Louis van Gaal’s side were a mess, but the quality of Robin van Persie and some huge mistakes by the Saints helped his side to a 2-1 victory.
The opening minutes were even, but Southampton gifted United their opener. Michael Carrick started the move with a through ball towards Wayne Rooney, but Jose Fonte was able to cut it out. However, he didn’t pick his head up before hitting a weak back pass that was intercepted by van Persie, who finished.
United made two subs in the first half, one forced and one tactical. Jonny Evans replaced the injured Chris Smalling in the 18th minute, and the second appeared to be in reaction to a pair of incidents.
Graziano Pelle fired Southampton level in the 31st minute, taking advantage of some poor defending by the Red Devils. A Marouane Fellaini turnover turned into a blocked Dusan Tadic shot, which Pelle followed up and smashed into the back of the net.
Four minutes after that, Shane Long missed badly after Patrick McNair set him up for a great chance with a botched clearance. This was apparently the last straw for van Gaal, who yanked McNair for Ander Herrera. This appeared to be a shift from a back three to a back four, but after a couple of minutes of confusion and multiple visits to the sideline, Carrick slotted into defense.
Long had his second huge miss of the game in the 53rd minute, hitting a header right into the stomach of David De Gea while unmarked, and with the entire goal to shoot at. Southampton continued to play well until around the hour mark, when the pitch started to tilt in United’s favor.
Van Persie recorded his second goal of the game in the 71st minute, taking advantage of some horrific defending. No one picked him up on a back post run off a gorgeous free kick by Rooney, and he placed a header into the back of the net. United defended well after that, holding on for the win.
Southampton: Forster, Bertrand, Yoshida, Fonte, Clyne, Wanyama, Davis, Mane, Tadic (Hesketh 70′), Long (Mayuka 79′), Pelle
Goals: Pelle (31′)
Manchester United: De Gea, Rojo, McNair (Herrera 39′), Smalling (Evans 18′), Young, Mata (Fletcher 89′), Carrick, Fellaini, Valencia, Rooney, van Persie
Goals: van Persie (12′, 71′)
1. United were lucky — Between Long’s missed chances and the mass confusion after McNair was pulled, United should have conceded four or five times. That they didn’t was just down to some poor shooting by Southampton and good play by De Gea.
2. Van Persie was excellent – Not just for the finishes, but for his work off the ball. This was the best match that RVP’s had in a United shirt since … probably since Alex Ferguson was in charge. These are the kinds of performances United need to get from him to finish in the top four comfortably.
3. Can van Gaal stop this back three experiment? — At no point have Manchester United looked comfortable playing with a back three. Despite this, van Gaal continues to go to it. It would be one thing if he was committed to the system and stuck to it through thick and thin, but he seems to be going to it as an as-presumed-needed basis, which is silly. It’s never needed if it’s this bad.