Manchester United hosted south coast Southampton tonight in what was arguably the Red’s most significant game of the season so far. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was hoping to see his side capitalise on Chelsea and Leicester City’s dropped points this weekend with a win seeing the Reds rise up to third in the league table. Sadly, it wasn’t quite to be as Southampton decided to put a spanner in the works.
Fans saw Solskjaer name an unchanged starting eleven for the fourth consecutive game this evening in a game which had severe implications in the hunt for Champions League football.
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Referee Chris Kavanagh kicked the game off and it soon became apparent that United had started on the back foot.
Saints manager Ralph Hasenhüttl set up his side up to be rigidly disciplined and looked to press United intensely. Southampton’s high press caused United no end of problems in the opening stages forcing the Reds into making costly mistakes.
Experienced midfielders Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic were caught in possession several times in the opening 10 minutes which caused some heart stopping moments for the United faithful.
The concerns of Reds fans were justified just two minutes later when Southampton winger Nathan Redmond broke free down the left and floated in a decent ball to the on rushing Stuart Armstrong who tucked the ball beyond United keeper David De Gea. 1-0 Southampton. Disastrous start.
United’s young and in some areas inexperienced side would perhaps have been excused for being shell-shocked, however, impressively, the Reds appeared to react well to going 1-0 down.
Despite Southampton’s electrifying start, United found themselves level just eight minutes later through a well worked goal from forward Marcus Rashford. Credit is due to United number nine Anthony Martial who displayed some superb hold up play deep inside Southampton’s box. Surrounded by three Saints players the young French forward managed to retain the ball and lay it off perfectly into the path of Rashford who neatly tucked it home. 1-1. Back in it.
The United side refused to take their foot off the gas after Rashford’s equaliser and managed to give themselves the lead just moments later after a quick fire double, with the second coming from the main man himself, Martial.
Martial’s latest stunner sees him join a list of United elites as the Frenchman became the club’s 10th player to score 50 goals for the Reds.
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The 24 year old striker is enjoying one heck of a season after racking up his best ever season goal tally in a United shirt (21).
Martial’s goal was one which he is becoming known for. The inspired striker cut in from the left side of the pitch, weaved his way through to create a perfect angle before rifling the ball into the top of the net. 2-1 United. Normal service resumed.
During a period of the game which could well have seen the south coast Saints capitulate, it’s worth noting they did well to persist with their clear game plan and remained firmly in the game.
A first-half moment of controversy happened just after the 25th minute when industrious midfielder Oriol Romeu went in for a challenge on youngster Mason Greenwood.
Upon closer inspection, the Spanish midfielder’s attempt to nick the ball was poor and could have so easily resulted in an early bath. VAR failed to pick the challenge up and consequently Romeu got away with what could have been a really nasty one for Greenwood.
As half-time came and went, Solskjaer refused to opt for early substitutions as the second-half appeared to ebb and flow in much the same manor as the first. Make no mistakes, Southampton were very much in the game and looked threatening in many moments throughout the game.
Arguably, it was United who came closest in the early parts of the second-half when Rashford burst down the left flank after some silky trickery, having burst into the box the young Englishman linked up superbly with team-mate Martial but was unable to finish off what would have been another United contender for goal of the month.
Shortly after United’s missed opportunity to extend their lead, Solskjaer finally opted to make his first change.
Pogba made way for Fred in a tactical attempt to prevent United’s midfield from continuing to be over run by Southampton’s hard-working players.
Just a few minutes later Solskjaer’s hand was forced into make a second change when left-back Luke Shaw who was arguably one of the best players on the pitch rolled his ankle deep into Southampton’s box. Despite the defender’s best attempts to run the injury off, he had no choice but to make way for youngster Brandon Williams.
The final five minutes saw Solskjaer use his third and final permitted substitution slot when he opted to introduce Daniel James and Scott McTominay in place of Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes respectively.
As the tightly contested game entered the final few minutes, United found themselves on the back-foot and nervously trying to see out a hard fought game.
Just shy of the 90th minute youngster Brandon Williams collided mid-air with Saints full-back Kyle Walker-Peters.
With neither player seemingly to blame for the unfortunate clash of heads, undoubtedly it was the United defender who came off worse.
Williams was forced to come off after a nasty gash was opened up on his head, despite the nasty looking nature of the cut, United fans can perhaps feel relieved as the youngster was able to walk himself off the pitch and down the tunnel.
Williams’ early departure meant United went down to 10-men due to only three slots of substitutions being permitted.
United came under some late pressure from their hard-working opponents and found themselves needing to defend a corner in the last few seconds of the game.
Disaster struck when Saints midfielder James Ward-Prowse whipped the ball into the box and with the help of some questionable defending Southampton forward Michael Obafemi was able to get his head on the end of the cross which beat De Gea. 2-2. Sickening.
Overall, a largely disappointing performance from United as most of their usually offensively influential players failed to impact the game. Midfield partners Fernandes and Pogba looked exactly like they’d played the amount of football they have.
Elsewhere, usually solid right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka had an off night as did experienced holding man Matic.
After a late Southampton show and with just three league games remaining, the race for the top-four now looks set to go right down to the wire when United will face-off against Leicester City in a final day clash which could be a Champions League play-off.
Solskjaer will now look to regroup his side as they look ahead to a trip to the capital where they will face-off against Crystal Palace on July 16.