In what has been the other form team post lockdown, it was always gonna be a difficult encounter as Southampton came to Old Trafford and so it proved. They started the better and ended the better. In fact, minus a 15 minute period after 20 minute mark, they were the better team. They capitalised on their early pressure with a goal from Armstrong, off a silly mistake by Pogba. United countered back quickly and hard. A double punch from Rashford and Martial. The game was intense and on a knife edge, with both teams creating chances. United were unable to take theirs and it proved costly as Obafemi stole in at the back post to grab the point deep into added time
If there is one thing that has been synonymous with Hassenhuttl’s Southampton, is the fact that they are amazing pressers when the opponent has the ball. Not only that, they entice you into these areas even as you have settled possession with a reinforced defensive shape that is very hard to pass through so that you have to make the square passes that they wish to pick off. Man Utd played right into their hands in the early by continuing to play out the back, even when common sense would tell you to play it longer into the full backs to drag the team to another side then in the middle of that shuffle, passing into the midfield area that would have opened up. This was exactly how the second goal came about: by passing it out to Wan Bissaka, who then passed it quickly into Pogba who was able to find Bruno. The rest will be seen later. But it was one of the few times the Red Devils smartly manoeuvred past the Saints high intensity. For the majority of the match, it was too slow on the ball, too many touches and not enough intensity in the pass when it was finally released. The full backs and the central midfielders in particular were especially guilty of this. Wan Bissaka and Shaw would often get it in build up and when a quick pass to the winger or back into the middle was needed, they took a touch to steady themselves. It stopped the move from flowing as it needed to be to get in behind the Southampton team. Pogba and Matic were simply too slow and ponderous on the ball, which is really disappointing for the former as that is exactly what he was put in that position to not do. The Frenchman was caught twice on it, the first being the one that led to the goal Southampton scored. The pass into him from De Gea was crazy in the first place but the lack of awareness from Pogba was criminal and it was duly punished by Armstrong powering it home past the aforementioned keeper. The Serbian has always been guilty of it but the last few games saw a marked improvement in that regard. Today showed a significant regression. As much as it is our job to impose ourselves on these games, it is still smart to take heed of your opponent’s strengths. Should be a lesson for future games.
Master of Chaos
The correlation between United’s results and the presence of Bruno couldn’t be more positive. Having a player willing to take that extra risk to open up the defence has been the difference and it was something that has taken the team up several levels. But there is such thing as risk management. In games like tonight, tight affairs, it needs to be in the Portuguese midfielder’s mind that keeping the ball is paramount so that the mounting attacks that Southampton had in the final minutes aren’t possible. There were occasions where he rushed the playing of the ball in the final third when a bit more care would have seen it hit his target. These were countering opportunities and the play breaking down so quickly just put more pressure on the defence and had us out of shape. It’s one of the reasons why he was taken off within the last closing minutes and has been before. He notched another assist today and was a small part of the other goal as well but he was loose with his passing all day, not just in the second half while we were under pressure. The need to create in him is constantly looking to be satiated but sometimes the team’s need to be steadied is more important
The Smiling Nine
Going back to the second goal of the game, as Bruno received the ball off Pogba and passed out to the player wide of him, it looked like the years had been rolled back to 2015/16, as you saw a Martial flying down the left wing, making the RB back pedal with fear. He cut in and struck the ball so firmly that McCarthy could not get a good enough hand on it. But that might not have been his most impressive work on the night, as the build up to the first goal, in trapping a difficult ball from Pogba and poking it wide to Rashford who slotted into the side netting. It was typical centre forward play and something that has been symptomatic of his improving general play. In what was a rather disappointing performance by everyone else, he was a bright spark in the team. He should have had scored before he got his first, as he ran through on goal and missed a 1v1 and could have added a second as a magnificent solo run was fired over the bar. In the end, those moments were what was needed to separate us more from the Saints but without his work, it would have been zero points and not just the one.
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