Manchester United collected yet another victory in their march towards securing Champions League football for next season. The victory over Southampton was obtained in a fashion typical of United of old, winning late.
United did not make it easy for them. Romelu Lukaku had a great chance early on that was well saved. He then had 2 other chances that I felt he should have done better with. Those chances were sandwiched by a wonder strike by Southampton’s Yan Valery. It came at a period where Southampton had got themselves in the game. They were troubling United notably through the pace of Nathan Redmond and Ryan Bertrand. The Saints were pretty tidy in midfield too.
Southampton could easily bypass United’s press and there were gaps in the midfield for them to exploit. There was to be one further chance for United when Chris Smalling’s header went narrowly wide. Marcus Rashford kept it in at the byline but no-one was around to capitalize.
United was too slow and ponderous in possession but had still created enough to chances to lead. Goals change a game and had United scored early, they might have had a comfortable afternoon. They didn’t and with every chance spurned, the frustration grew. Rashford missed another chance off a header before Andreas Pereira pulled off a great strike to level it for the Red Devils.
Pereira had been playing decently before that goal, found another level in his performance. He then assisted Lukaku to give United the lead. Alexis Sanchez’s injury meant the introduction of Diogo Dalot and the young Portuguese had a significant impact with his direct running and crossing.
At 2-1, I always felt United needed a third to be comfortable because Southampton had shown enough to suggest that they got a goal in them. They got their equalizer through a sumptuous free kick by James Ward Prowse. As the minutes ticked by, Lukaku found a winner late on to give United the win.
Paul Pogba had the opportunity to make it 4-2 but was denied from the spot kick by Angus Gunn. Overall, the victory and 3 points are welcome any which way it comes. It was not a fantastic performance and there is still room for improvement. To be frank, Solksjaer has got the team to punch above their weight a bit but in matches such as these, United are expected to win.
The team is currently decimated with injuries and the players standing in have done well to ensure that they have got 2 wins out of 2. Lukaku has got 4 goals in 2 games but still has missed a few. He has shown great commitment and effort. I have been surprised by how well he has played out wide, delivering some good crosses and running back to defend. Like many of his team-mates, he looks rejuvenated.
Despite the goals he has scored, it’s actually frightening to think that he can still improve. I feel he can be more clinical and has to do better with his first touch. Yesterday, he played in tandem with Rashford but that partnership still needs to be worked on. At times, Rashford was too wide and far from his partner.
Dalot had a better impact coming off the bench in a wide right position than he did from the start against Crystal Palace. He was signed as a right back but if he continues this type of performances, he could very well be reinverted as a right-winger. Pereira played better when his position changed to playing closer to the strikers. There is no doubt that he is technically gifted but he still needs to refine it further to be more effective.
Scott McTominay put in a great shift against Liverpool and Crystal Palace. The fans got frustrated with him yesterday when he chose to play the ball backward and sideways rather than going forward. He reminds me a lot of Darren Fletcher. Fletcher took a lot of stick at the start of his time at the club. He then developed to be a big game player for United.
The difference is that Fletcher could learn from the likes of Keane, Scholes, and Butt when he was developing. I would argue that in the present team, McTominay doesn’t have the same level of players and characters to learn from. United needs to improve the quality of their midfield with the signing of at least one more top quality midfielder.
Sanchez is probably the only enigma in the team that has not had any improvements in his fortune. He tries hard but is just not producing the quality we expect of him. I feel it might be time for United to move him on for another player of high quality.
I have not seen enough of Tahtih Chong and Angel Gomes to comment on their ability and personality. They probably need some time out on loan to develop themselves and play regularly before coming back to United to be part of the first team.
Next for United is the return leg of the Champions League clash against Paris Saint Germain. I am not optimistic about United’s chances of overturning the result. There is evidently a gulf in quality between both teams. For all of Solksjaer’s good work this season, I feel this is a bridge too far for him.
I would settle for United finishing Top 4 and winning the FA Cup. Solksjaer has done well to get the team playing well and winning. It should also be noted that in big games, his tactics are not too dissimilar to Mourinho’s. The only difference is that the team is coherent going forward on the counter-attack. They sit back and defend but they also look to score.
One final word, I have always been on the fence with regards to the full-time appointment of Solksjaer. However, with every passing game, he convinces me more that he is the man for the job. After the recent failures of Van Gaal and Mourinho, I feel a manager who was a former player and knows the club could be the right man to bring us back to our glory days. As a manager, Solksjaer still needs to develop further but looks capable to take the job full-time.