No defeat today would mean that United would equal the away record without a loss. Unfortunately it would be with a draw rather than a win. The first 20 minutes, United were inundating Southampton with set piece problems but were unable to convert any chances. Che Adams, via a deflection off Fred, crept the ball past De Gea to get a goal against the run of play. Such was the diversion that the goal was in fact awarded as a Fred own goal. Greenwood was able to pull one back but it was not the precursor to a grandstand finish as the rest of the game was played out in a very poor fashion, particularly from United’s side
Job Not Finished
The two big transfers in the window both managed to find themselves in the squad but neither started. However, even with those signings, the most glaring area of improvement remains the centre of the park where a hole remains in terms of having an enforcer in the middle of the pitch. One who can create openings with progressive passing whilst also marshalling the spaces in front of the back line. In games like today, you can see the paramount need. The ghost of Matic was wheeled out for a rare appearance today and even in his old age, he was able to show that some of the things he provides is exactly what we need but in a younger model, who has more mobility. As much as keeping the back locked is important, when teams like Southampton sit as deep as they do, the ability to play on the ball is elucidated even further. The tempo, at which the team was passing, was too slow to move the Saints out of their shape and when we entrust our centre backs more with progressing play through passing than our midfielders shows the dire straits we are currently in. We can continue to skirt around the issue and put placeholders like Fred and McTominay in the position but the need to complete the team rests entirely on this position now Sancho and Varane have come into the team.
A DM might even allow Pogba to move back into the middle of the pitch but currently, he is playing the best he has since he has come back to United. He seems to be enjoying his football in this middle wing role that has been created from him since the late autumn of last season. Essentially, he is playing like a third midfielder where Shaw is allowed to overlap on the outside and it creates the conundrum that teams seldom manage to solve over the course of 90 mins. When you see the football he is capable of, having to shift it into wider positions for fear of opening up the team to counters too much seems like a risk worth taking when the team plays as stodgy as they did today. The outside of the foot ball into Martial’s path in the first half was symptomatic of the performance we were served up with today. He was his usual graceful self and his work for the goal was exactly what was needed. The semi reverse pass to Bruno before he touched it to Greenwood will be highlighted because of the goal but it was something that was happening all game
With Rashford out, Sancho integrating and Cavani taking a well deserved break, it meant that Martial would be getting a chance. It has been a while since he had minutes but no excuses can be made for what we saw in the first 57 minutes. The fact he was only allowed to go through circa 15 minutes in the second half shows the limited effect he was able to have. He probably should have had a goal in early minutes but a Salisu block from a weakish header was his biggest contribution. He was hardly able to get past a man when he was running into channels and stood them up. Such is the levels Martial has been at, even the absences doesn’t guarantee his place in the XI and that should be the biggest indictment for him right now.
It is still a major concern that under pressure, United still are unable to withstand it. Fred, Matic and Bruno were constantly giving up possession under the slightest bit of Southampton press. The fact that of the three, Matic is the most comfortable and he is incredibly awkward on it just shows how poor the other two are. Bruno had his perhaps most anonymous games in a Red Devils shirt, even with his telling contribution in the build up to Greenwood’s goal. Fred literally passed the ball off the pitch without pressure on at least two occasions. Usually Shaw, Lindelof and Maguire are able to pick up the slack but they had unusually suspect games on the ball that they were unable to dig us out of the hole.