Tuesday 24 April 2018

Lukaku strikes again as Reds hold on for victory

Southampton 0-1 Manchester Utd

Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku

Miguel Delaney

Repeat to fade: Romelu Lukaku scores again, Manchester United win again, Southampton fail to score again and the away support sing that controversial song about the Belgian again.

That, rather simply, was the story of this otherwise tricky 1-0 victory for Jose Mourinho's side. Southampton failed to score for the 10th home game in 13, despite otherwise playing quite well, while Lukaku claimed his sixth Premier League goal in six. That was the difference.

It led to the United supporters making a point of singing the Lukaku song that received such condemnation in midweek, and doubling down on it by then singing "we're Man United, we'll sing what we want" before then so conspicuously moving on to another much less charged chant in support of the player.

The Belgian is certainly deserving of something like the latter, as he continues to power his and his side's fine start to the season, even on a day when they probably didn't deserve it. On the 20th minute at St Mary's, after what was a bright United start, stand-in left-back Ashley Young sent over a brilliant cross for Lukaku to head at Fraser Forster. The goalkeeper stopped it, but couldn't stop the forward making it 1-0 and seven goals in all this season. It really is a remarkable start for a player who now looks like he could well be Premier League top scorer this campaign, and one of the most remarkable aspects is the pattern to the goals. Four of them, including that strike in the Super Cup against Real Madrid, involved efforts that were initially saved only to then strike them into the net.

You could look at it both ways, and say it's either a sign of potential wastage and future misses or just a top striker's innate instinct for being in the right place, except it's currently leading to the most singular of outcomes: the inarguability of a goal scored and subsequent wins.

How Southampton would love that kind of simplicity, given how difficult they've found mere attacking. It was something so pronounced throughout this match, especially given the slight sense that there was a result here to be taken against the pre-game league leaders.

Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United scores the winning goal past Fraser Forster. Photo: Getty
Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United scores the winning goal past Fraser Forster. Photo: Getty

United had taken command quite quickly, only to gradually cede space and possession - but not many chances. That, however, was more down to Southampton's forward play rather than the defending of Mourinho's side.

It was in short difficult to see what home manager Mauricio Pellegrini was trying to do with his team, especially when balls would be pumped up to Shane Long, he would chest it down… and then be forced to come back towards the centre circle and remonstrate with team-mates because there was just no support.

In saying that, it was also difficult to see how Oriol Romeu missed just after half-time. Dusan Tadic had made one of Southampton's isolated runs up the pitch, only for Phil Jones to do well to flick the ball out of play. From the resulting corner, the ball bounced around the box, landing for Romeu in the centre of the six-yard box and with the goal gaping. He put it a fair bit wide of the post.

If Southampton struggled to create chances of that quality, they were easily taking control of a midfield without Paul Pogba, and that is a concern for Mourinho. That concern was also illustrated when he took off Juan Mata for Ander Herrera.

A dejected Nathan Redmond of Southampton. Photo: Getty
A dejected Nathan Redmond of Southampton. Photo: Getty

It saw United quickly make another chance as Henrikh Mkhitaryan teed up Lukaku again, only for Forster to this time get better contact on his stop, but didn't really plug the hole. Southampton again kept coming, Romeu kept missing these chances that suddenly appeared out of nothing - a header cleared off the line, another skewed wide - and it was about the fourth United game this season that at this point looked as likely to end 1-1 as 4-0.

In the end, it was neither. It was a relatively unconvincing 1-0. Southampton applied some pressure but the tensest moment was when Mourinho got sent off in the final minute for seemingly saying something to the fourth official.

We've heard so much of that before too. Repeat to fade.

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