It is a game that deserved a goal but in the end, the Red Devils may be happier that there was none given the way the 90 minutes transpired. The game was open as it is with both teams having the chances to get into the oppositions box but often, were let down by poor execution. The basketball nature of the game was enforced even more by Casemiro being sent off for a sliding challenge on Alcaraz. More on that later. De Gea saved from point blank range, Bazunu kept Rashford out with a comfortable save and Weghorst was surprised by a header when he really ought not to be. Throw in a couple penalty shouts for United that weren’t given and that was the first half ended. The second half, Southampton grew more and more as an offensive presence and United were unable to build up any head of steam. Outside of Bruno and Walker Peters hitting the post, both sides huffed and puffed. A strange game where both teams will look at it like an opportunity missed but gladly a point was secured in the face of it.
There was a clip of Gary Neville speaking about how much he has enjoyed the way Ten Hag has set out his team to play this season. Given that he came from Ajax and has been schooled in the Dutch way of thinking, it was thought that he would come with the typical principles of possession first, high press, zonal marking. However, it has been pretty much the opposite. There has been building blocks of what he will want to see in the future in some aspects, such as the inversion of full backs, playing out the back, the working the ball to create overloads in the wide areas for the left or right wingers but it has been pretty much tactics predicated on ensuring that the back door is firmly shut.
In doing this, the progression of play has leaned very much on the individual and that is a problem when you see the individuals that we relied upon when it comes to progression. In that clip, Neville said that he likes the chaotic nature of Casemiro, Fred and Bruno but that chaotic nature is exactly why games like today can happen. Even with Eriksen playing in that role, games were still able to get away from us in moments because we lacked the control to fully drain teams when there are times that they look to build up a head of steam. Fred didn’t play but the other two did and you saw exactly why continuously being on the edge of chaos is just not suitable for a top team. Even prior to his red card, Casemiro was constantly looking to play the ball in behind when an extra pass to a nearer man would have allowed us to keep the ball and still keep the opportunity to play the killer pass. He done it twice in quick succession early on and it set the tone for his day. The tackle that got him sent off was a classic orange card and the only argument United fans can make as to why it should have been kept to an onfield decision is that PGMOL have tried to keep to that as much as possible. In effect, Casemiro went over the ball enough that his foot was able to bounce off it and into Alcaraz at the bottom of his shin. For someone of his experience, it is something quite criminal of the Brazilian. His last four league games have been the shocker of Liverpool sandwiched inbetween two reds today and at Palace, with a yellow vs Palace that kept him out of the Arsenal loss. 8 games being missed through suspension is extremely poor on his part.
Bruno today wasn’t reckless in terms of his discipline but with his other work. He plays on the edge of risk and reward with the debate raging on whether he needs to play with such ridiculous amounts of risk when he has the quality to play those passes. Today, after the game with Real Betis in which he done everything right, he returned in the form that makes him such a polarising figure even when with his impact and statistics, he shouldn’t be. Trying to force passes that were not there yet, trying to turn out in situations where you just shouldn’t do so and being unbelievably lax in deeper areas when he had to play there in the absence of Casemiro. When you are facing Southampton, you have to be incredibly wary about the traps they set in the first phase because they do it not just for the obvious ease in which you can score from open play but also the fruits you can get from dead balls when you employ James Ward-Prowse. At least two times in the second half he played United in more danger than they were in before he even got the ball.
If Man Utd are to actually progress in being better than they are currently, the idea of maintaining this style is something that cannot be entertained. Be it through personnel and tactical evolution, the end to end game that we just knocked out with the Saints should serve as a reminder for any United fan about how much there is to go with this team.
The right back position is becoming a real race of the loser as any time Dalot or Wan Bissaka seem to get up a head of steam, they somehow manage to trip themselves up to let the other back in. Wan Bissaka has been in good form whereas Dalot has been pretty bad since the resumption after the World Cup. Today, the former probably started the new cycle in which the Portuguese man may find a way back in because after the improvement in the Englishman’s game offensively, it came crashing back down to Earth today. Defensively, he was once again being caught out by passes in behind him. If not for Varane, Sulemana may have been able to slot past De Gea in the first half.
If there was anyone to come out with something to look positively upon after this game, it would have to be McTominay. He broke up play ably and was actually good in terms of keeping composure on the ball, playing it safe and driving forward when the opportunity presented.