Mourinho praises Romero as De Gea misses out
Southampton 0 Man Utd 0
Jose Mourinho indicated that David de Gea has played his last match of the season for Manchester United after the Spanish goalkeeper missed last night's draw at Southampton.
De Gea's replacement Sergio Romero saved Manolo Gabbiadini's early penalty at St Mary's, and is also set to start next week's Europa League final against Ajax.
Regular No 1 De Gea continues to be linked with Real Madrid, but Mourinho insisted he is keen to keep the Spaniard. Asked when De Gea might be seen in a United shirt again, Mourinho said: "The first match against LA Galaxy in pre-season in Los Angeles.
"I hope to play Sergio in the final and hopefully we don't have problems with the keepers. David is top of the world and obviously we want to keep the top in the world."
Romero insisted after his star turn that the Europa League final in Stockholm is United's biggest match of the season as they look to book a Champions League spot for next term.
"A clean sheet is good for us - for defenders, for me and for the team," Romero. "I think for us it (the final) is the most important of the year. For this club we need the trophy."
Mourinho's United are now certain to finish with fewer league wins than any of the David Moyes or Louis van Gaal vintages, but it was still Southampton manager Claude Puel who has most to fear from this drab goalless draw.
"I try to stay focused about our last game now," said the French manager. "After the season we have time to discuss and speak about this, and make a debrief. It's important to focus on our last game."
Puel appears to be fighting for his job, which might sound surprising in the context both of a potential eighth-place finish and League Cup final. However, a review of his first season in English football will be conducted next week and the statistics that will most trouble the Saints hierarchy are the lack of goals this season at St Mary's.
This was the fifth Premier League home game out of six when the home fans have not seen their team score.
The big positive from this game for Mourinho was the form of Romero, who produced a string of excellent saves, aside from his penalty stop.
Mourinho's policy of rest and rotation ahead of the Europa League final continued, with a further four changes from the 2-1 defeat by Tottenham that itself had involved eight different players from the loss at Arsenal.
Most eye-catching was the complete omission of De Gea. Daley Blind was also absent, while Jesse Lingard and Michael Carrick dropped to the bench alongside Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford. Paul Pogba has been given time off following the death of his father.
It all left Wayne Rooney playing as the main central striker ahead of Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial while the central-midfield base was provided by Marouane Fellaini and 19-year-old Axel Tuanzebe.
The hosts started more aggressively, with Nathan Redmond and Matt Targett soon combining down the left. Cedric was quick to push forward from right-back and the flight of his fifth-minute cross seemed to confuse Eric Bailly, who rather than control the ball with his chest, stuck out his arm.
Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot but, having missed their past two penalties, there was initially some doubt over which Southampton player should take responsibility. Shane Long had missed on Saturday in the 2-0 win against Middlesbrough and Dusan Tadic wasted a chance earlier this month to clinch a victory against Hull City.
Gabbiadini stepped up and, although his penalty was hit with limited power, it was directed low into Romero's right-hand corner. Romero, though, reacted brilliantly and turned the ball around the post.
Southampton remained generally in control of possession but it was largely in the middle of the pitch and United were creating clear chances with their rapid counter-attacks. Bailly forced a save by Fraser Forster, while Rooney and Martial combined to create another opportunity.
Mourinho was unusually low key on the touchline and this was reflected in the functional first-half performance of his players.
Southampton upped the speed of their passing at the start of the second half and created a flurry of chances. Phil Jones clumsily fouled Cedric on the edge of the penalty area, with James Ward-Prowse rolling the ball into the path of Tadic, whose powerful shot was blocked by Romero.
The clearest chance fell to Jack Stephens following a corner but his volley was misdirected back across the six-yard area.
Puel was imploring his team forward but found himself in the direct line of contact following a full-blooded Bailly clearance. Southampton's pace also gradually dropped, and United became increasingly dangerous.
Late on Fellaini fed Martial, who drifted in brilliantly from the left flank and, with an attempted finish that was reminiscent of Thierry Henry, used the shortest of back-lifts to guide the ball past Forster but agonisingly off the inside of the post. (© Daily Telegraph, London)