It was far from a game that neutrals will be waxing lyrical about. United’s best chance of the first half came when Southampton continually threw themselves in front of the ball to deny Elanga, Bruno and Eriksen. Bella-Kotchup had Southampton’s when he blazed over the bar from close range. The second half saw perhaps the only piece of quality in the game as a slick move started when Elanga ran infield to pass to Sancho. He combined with Dalot, producing a quite stunning cross. Bruno would go on to match it with a controlled steered finish into the bottom corner. Southampton came on strong but in the end, United did enough to get the three points. First back to back wins and an away win since February to show Monday night was not just a one hit wonder. Still, the work to be done is quite clear.
Building Up Slowly
The game today was always going to be different to what we faced on Monday night. However, it is always difficult to change a winning team, particularly when the options on the bench are not exactly stacked with quality. Well, minus the new addition of Casemiro. The difference in opposition though, with Southampton more likely to drop deeper than Liverpool, was going to challenge this XI more.
It already exposed something we know that we have had a big problem with. Our first and second phase build up is incredibly bad and would be something that Ten Hag will be desperate to fix in the long term. The additions of Martinez and Malacia, along with their defensive acumen, will come with improvement in that regard as they both look to take less touches than their counterparts. Maguire and Shaw have a tendency to slow the game down for no reason and take multiple touches on top of that. The Argentine and Dutchman are more intense with their passing while the English duo prefer to use carrying to progress play. They always say the ball travels quicker than the man and you can see it in this case.
Also, Varane isn’t exactly the best on the ball either, focusing more on sweeping behind and clearing long balls so it increases the reliance on the left hand side in order to get out. Eriksen and McTominay are not exactly the greatest to help in dropping in to give options and progress the ball either. Eriksen’s technical capability to pick out a long pass is amazing, seen a few times in the first half especially, but playing in that deeper position requires more than that. The movement is a bit different in having to not play directly in behind the marker but playing in clearer space. He tried his best but he couldn’t get a proper grip of it. McTominay didn’t exactly help but he never does and it just doesn’t look like it will ever be part of his game.
Even then, if you cannot play out the back slowly, the option to turn the opposition team, with a cultured ball in behind for the wingers to chase or up to the centre forward are good options. However, such was the slowness of the play between the backline and midfield, the option for the wingers was barely ever on. As aforementioned, only really a few times was a switch of play able to get a winger 1v1 but Sancho and Elanga didn’t do enough, particularly the latter.
Rashford as a centre forward has never been good at pinning centre backs or holding up the ball. Being able to run in behind to latch onto balls is the best he can offer when he is played there. Maligned as he has been, with the idea of a striker coming in and Ronaldo leaving hanging in the balance, Martial has suddenly become incredibly important after he was pretty much surplus by the time he left for Sevilla. United will need to solve their issue from building and it can’t just come from acquisition of new players but an improvement from the current ones.
Fragile Minds Making For Fragile Feet
Already this season, we have spoken about how fragile this United team are mentally. So once we saw the team go one in front from that fantastic team goal that Bruno finished off spectacularly, it was going to be a test if these players could see out the win.
Even after the confidence you can get from a win on Monday night, it can be fleeting and losing a lead today would have brought the players back down to Earth. How they saw out the game showed that these are fragile times for these United players. Normally, when the better team gets in front they are able to control the game by starving the other team of the ball. Southampton seemed to grow with their possession as soon as United went ahead. It was actually quite bizarre how much territory that United conceded once going ahead. Pressurising the backline, it would need to stand ably against not exactly an onslaught from the Saints but they played much of the second period exclusively in our half. It is something that will need to be improved because this is a team that will probably be battling relegation and we were made to look as such in that second half.
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