For the second time in over 8 months, Manchester United came back and won the match. It was also the second time a Dutchman at United had opened their account against Fulham and scored a hat-trick against Southampton (Van Nistelrooy and Van Persie). It’s quite remarkable we were unable to make a comeback in a season where we finished 89 points. For those few games we did go behind and really needed a win, it could have been the difference between winning no.20. Despite the magical moments and feeling of triumph after watching another classic United comeback, there were several issues littered throughout the match.
We enjoyed 2 good spells during this half. For the first 10 minutes, we looked to be in control of the match. After Lambert’s goal, we lost our way but then went another good 20-minute spell where Van Persie equalized and we looked more threatening. Even with these good spells of possession, our issues still surfaced. Every player was slack in possession. The first goal was a combination of errors. Cleverley’s pass to Kagawa as well as Kagawa not reacting to the oncoming defender. For the cross, Evra showed Puncheon to his stronger left foot and failed to close down the cross. Ferdinand failed to assist Rafael when Lambert peeled over to his side and Lambert headed home a decent header for the opening goal. Carrick was the main culprit of bad possession. There were a few occasions where he not only got caught on the ball, but he also would attempt to thread a ball through Southampton’s midfield when there was a better option closer to him. In his first game back in midfield, he seemed off the pace and simply not quite there. For someone who takes such care with the ball, Carrick was uncharacteristically bad with his distribution.
Let’s not forget, Southampton played pretty well themselves. Their no.4, Schneiderlin, was a constant thorn in our side. His interception of Cleverley’s pass to Kagawa led to their first goal. He also made it difficult for Kagawa to grab a foothold in the game as he man-marked him throughout the game. His defensive work made it uncomfortable for our midfielders and while we enjoyed a good amount of possession in the first half, Schneiderlin ensured any penetration through the middle was met with stern resistance. Lambert’s physicality and ability to play the ball with his feet provided a challenge for Rio and Vidic. It was magnified even more since the pair haven’t played together in a year.
Lallana’s runs from midfield were a constant threat and problem in the first half. There was one chance where we were fortunate he didn’t capitalize. He broke early from midfield after we ceded possession, making a diagonal run and Evra failed to pick him up. Our defence recovered in time to see out any danger from the play. If Lallana had wriggled free and got an extra second, we would have conceded a second goal. Credit to Nigel Adkins for his team’s setup as they broke from the archetypal 4-4-2 to trouble us with a more fluid 4-3-3.
In this half, we weren’t much better. It was worrying observing our team using the ball well but not well enough to trouble Southampton’s backline. For most of this half, they didn’t have many occasions where we got beyond their line of defensive or drew them out of shape. For those first 10 minutes of the half, we looked lost. Cleverley was eager to advance upfield while Carrick was happy to stay behind. As a result, it led to moments where we had a confusion of roles and a perceived lack of direction. Vidic attempted a 50-yard ball to Rafael when Carrick was wide open ready to receive the ball but we ceded possession instead. Despite United’s well-documented defensive problems, there wasn’t a clear gameplan that took any fruition.
We continued to be slack in possession and it robbed us of creating any type of rhythm. This lack of concentration led to Southampton’s 2nd goal. Valencia attempted an unnecessary flick gifting the ball back to Southampton. Cleverly failed to pick up Puncheon’s run through the middle. Once again, we failed to close down the cross and it gave our opposition time to pick out their teammates’ runs into the box. Although Evra slipped, replays show his initial positioning meant he was going to lose out to Schneiderlin anyway. His slip only compounded our lack of organization as Schneiderlin had all the time to pick out his spot as he headed home their second.
I’ve often heard Sir Alex criticized for his use and timing of substitutions. However, in this match, he got both aspects spot on. As Van Persie mentioned, when Scholes was introduced, his impact was immediate and we began to play. Within the first minute of coming on, he created a chance for Van Persie. We were still porous through the middle but a stark difference was Carrick and Scholes were advancing up the field in tandem. Our openness, at this point in the match, was due to our backline not pushing up when Carrick and Scholes did.
Bringing on Nani added to our attacking threat as he’s better suited to playing out wide and drifting inwards than Welbeck. Hernandez’s inclusion caused Southampton’s backline to drop back further and it invariably opened up more space for our midfield to operate. We began to apply more pressure and it forced mistakes, one of which led to Van Persie’s penalty. Like Sir Alex, I think we all expected him to hammer it home. Attempting to chip the keeper at that point in the match was audacious at best and I hope he never does it again. Despite a few defensive scares, we continued to press for the equalizer and thanks to Rio’s presence and Van Persie’s knack of being in the right place, we equalized in dramatic fashion. You could sense the uneasiness creep through Southampton’s squad as it looked like we were destined to grab something from the match. Sure enough, from Nani’s corner (believe it or not), Van Persie scored the winner with an unstoppable header and the comeback was complete. The United end went absolutely berserk as we witnessed another classic United comeback. Moments like that are so difficult to put into words. All I could think of was “Football, bloody hell!”
Here are some interesting quotes I found telling about our match:
Vidic: “It was a difficult game and we conceded two goals we’re not happy with at all. We’ve been told before the game what Southampton’s strengths are, what their game is and what they’re trying to achieve. In the end, they did it so it’s disappointing. I think it’s only the second time in a year myself and Rio have played together so it’s a long time and obviously it’s tough as everyone needs more games.
“I have to say, we are not really pleased with the goals we’ve conceded. There was a lack of concentration, I think, for all four goals we lost [in the last two games] but we have to work on it. You have to say we’ve had a lot of turbulence in defence with so many changes and people going in and going out. We didn’t have a constant back four and sometimes it causes a problem, but we look forward to the next games. We have over a week to improve our fitness and obviously our form so we are going to be right for the next game in the Premier League.”
From Redcafe: “Abysmal but still had 56% of the ball in an away game. Also topped Southampton on all the other stats as well. More shots, more shots on target, more corners and less fouls.”
The centrebacks were bigger problems imo. They should be aware of the threat of our fullbacks being pulled on to. That’s a classic tactic. You can’t really expect them to win those headers. I remember years ago where we were playing against a strong team that kept targeting Evra in the air and Vidic made sure he always got across. Just didn’t have anything like that. Hopefully it will come when they get form.
In any team, it takes time to build cohesion and understanding between teammates. We fielded a starting XI with our captain coming back from a long injury layoff. A CB pair who haven’t played together in over a year. A central partnership who haven’t played together since last season and a LB whose performance showed he needs to be dropped. It led to a defensive catastrophe and I’m glad the international break has come at this time. Instead of solely focusing on the next match, our staff can look at how we can improve our defensive organization as our players continue to figure each other out. If you look at Arsenal now, instilling Steve Bould’s defensive approach into their squad has made them more resolute and dare I say, hard to beat. You couldn’t say that about them before and no matter how good your attackers are, your defence is the foundation to winning games. For Arsenal, buying a defensive midfielder wasn’t the answer to their defensive issues. Simply a change in approach and mentality has made all the difference and it’s something we need to put into place once again.
It’s quite apparent Evra needs rest. He was too easily beaten and was a defensive liability throughout the match. Rafael wasn’t much better but his offensive productivity played a part in our comeback. Thankfully, our next match is home against Wigan. It would be a great opportunity to see what Buttner can offer for the first team after an impressive outing for the Reserves. Lindegaard didn’t have a commanding performance and while he wasn’t bad, he didn’t instill me with much confidence and unfortunately for him, I see De Gea replacing him for the first spot once again.
For our match winner Van Persie, what a key signing he’s been already. I was one of those who thought we didn’t need him, but he’s shown his value and credit to Sir Alex for pursuing this transfer. Having a world-class player in your squad never hurts and 3 games in, he looks set to have a wonderful season with us. It’s Friday and I’m still over the moon watching United come back and grab a win from the depths of defeat. I can’t wait for the 15th. Think it’s time we put down a marker and show the rest of the league we mean business. No better way to do it than a commanding performance at the Theatre of Dreams.