Tuesday 25 June 2019

Southampton march on past shot-shy Manchester United

Manchester United 0 Southampton 1

Juan Mata reacts after missing a chance
Juan Mata reacts after missing a chance
Wayne Rooney reacts after the final whistle following Manchester United's loss to Southampton
Southampton's Dusan Tadic shoots and scores against Manchester United at Old Trafford
Robin van Persie goes off injured
Wayne Rooney jumps for the ball as he is challenged by Jose Fonte

Henry Winter

This will be remembered grimly by the Manchester United faithful as the game when they failed to manage one shot on target despite having Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Angel Di Maria and Juan Mata, £150m worth of attacking talent, on the pitch.

United supporters will also shudder at the memory of the final few minutes when their famous side, a club associated with wing play and incisive attacking, resorted to hoisting long balls towards Marouane Fellaini, raising unwelcome echoes of the darkest moments under David Moyes last season. It was like watching the Halle being forced to play Chopsticks.

United are surely meant to be more sophisticated than this.

Louis van Gaal loves attacking football and will have been frustrated as any United diehard at this tame display, rivalling their opening-day defeat to Swansea City as their worst display under the Dutchman (excluding the third string's rout by MK Dons). At least they scored three times in the shock loss at Leicester City.

United were uncertain defensively, lacking ideas and urgency in midfield and toothless in attack, a painful reality that made the exclusion of Radamel Falcao even more bemusing.

Van Gaal preferred to have three centre-halves, two holding midfielders and only one striker, the promising but raw James Wilson, on the bench (as well as Victor Valdes).

Frailties

Given that United have been mulling over whether to make Falcao's loan move from Monaco permanent, his absence hardly signalled a long-term union.

For all the focus on United's frailties, they were made to struggle by the excellence of Southampton, who recorded their first win here in 27 years.

The visitors were superior in all departments. Their captain, Jose Fonte, was exceptional at the back, making good interceptions and setting the tone for the determination that coursed through his team.

Few defensive midfielders in the Premier League are currently as accomplished as Morgan Schneiderlin, who was ably partnered by Victor Wanyama in stopping many United moves at source, particularly in closing the space around Rooney and Mata.

It was another dominant display by Schneiderlin which will have wealthy clubs coveting his substantial services.

In attack, Dusan Tadic came on after 63 minutes and scored within six minutes - a finish that was so composed that it made his earlier forgetfulness over leaving his shirt and shinpads in the dressing-room even more bizarre.

This was not the first shirt drama in meetings between the sides - as those who saw United lose in grey tops in 1996 will attest.

If Tadic, Schneiderlin and Fonte all deserved their name up in lights in the headlines, others also shone. Graziano Pelle worried United's defenders, and should have had a penalty for Chris Smalling's premature attempt to swap shirts.

Self-belief

Southampton's full-backs, Ryan Bertrand and particularly Nathaniel Clyne, impressed, largely keeping United's wing-backs, Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw and eventually Daley Blind, at bay.

If Shaw was valued at £27m, heaven knows how much Clyne, his old Southampton team-mate, is worth.

Clyne exuded self-belief, and almost scored after a minute, demonstrating the visitors' hunger.

Southampton's supporters loved it, chanting "the Saints are staying up" as they reached 39 points, mocking those who predicted their demise when the likes of Shaw left in the summer.

They overtook United, climbing into third place, refuelling belief of a Champions League place, and surely bringing Ronald Koeman even more to the attention of his old club, Barcelona, should they elect to evict Luis Enrique.

When United played Barcelona in the 1991 European Cup-winners' Cup final in Rotterdam, Alex Ferguson took the rare step of placing a man-marker on an opponent, deputing Brian McClair to shadow Koeman.

With Ferguson watching here, Van Gaal could not outwit Koeman, whose team were better organised, more determined, and better balanced.

This was one for the Southampton fans' scrapbooks and also one for the club's record books.

The last time Southampton prevailed at Old Trafford was on January 16, 1988 when Belinda Carlisle was at No 1 with 'Heaven Is A Place On Earth' and John Burridge was wearing No 1 for the Saints. Their outfield comprised Gerry Forrest, Kevin Moore, Kevin Bond, Derek Statham, Jimmy Case, Graham Baker, Andy Townsend, Danny Wallace, Matt Le Tissier and Colin Clarke, who scored both goals in the 2-0 win.

Southampton did enjoy a shoot-out success here in an FA Cup fourth-round replay on February 5, 1992 when Alan Shearer was alarming United's defence.

What made this achievement even more impressive was that United had been in good form, having been unbeaten in 10 games in the Premier League.

Their hopes seemed to have improved further when Toby Alderweireld, one of Southampton's best players this season, pulled a muscle in his left thigh in clearing a cross from Rooney and had to be helped from the fray.

As Florin Gardos came on rather slowly to partner Fonte, United were allowed to re-start the game by Phil Dowd, culminating in Di Maria shooting wide. Southampton fumed at United's opportunism.

The game meandered along. Fonte headed the ball wide. Rooney charged forward, slipping the ball left to Van Persie, whose shot was blocked by Gardos.

The ball looped up and was clutched comfortably by Forster.

As Southampton attacked early in the second half, Shaw did well to clear from under the feet of Pelle. Van Persie then departed, having fouled Fonte, been booked, and hurt himself, bringing Ander Herrera on.

As Rooney pushed up front, United fans were getting frustrated, some chanting "attack, attack, attack" but they lacked focus and quality of delivery. Phil Jones lifted one cross straight into Forster's hands.

Van Gaal rejigged his defence, sending on Tyler Blackett for Shaw, moving Blind to left wing-back. Question-marks have clung to United's back-line all season, deepening here.

The Jones-Smalling-Blackett line was badly caught out after 69 minutes. Tadic had just come on, having replaced Eljero Elia, but made a superb impact when Fraser Forster punted the ball upfield.

Blackett headed the ball out but straight to James Ward-Prowse, who redirected it towards Pelle on the edge of the box.

Smalling attempted to clear but Ward-Prowse quickly drilled the ball in to Tadic.

The Serb controlled the ball, before turning and neatly rolling it into the path of Pelle, whose shot struck the post, and rebounded out.

As United defenders hesitated, Tadic calmly stroked the ball into the net from 15 yards.

Tadic immediately ran towards the jubilant visiting fans, ripped off his shirt, displaying his rippling abdomen, making fun of forgetting his shirt earlier, and was duly booked.

Van Gaal played his final card, sending on Fellaini for Di Maria, leading to those high balls. Mata had a couple of chances but, capturing United's flaw, could not find the target as the Saints marched on. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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