Enthralling first-half displays from Manchester United and Southampton almost looked set to produce one of the upsets of the season so far.
Both sides contested the second half well, but to Southampton’s joys and Jose Mourinho’s despairs, the Saints were able to hold on for a 2-2 draw.
Southampton’s joy was short-lived as Romelu Lukaku scored to bring United back into the game. Marcus Rashford can be given a lot of credit for United’s second goal, after some tenacious work down the right-hand side he managed to place the ball perfectly for Ander Herrera to slide past Stuart Armstrong.
The Scotsman, Stuart Armstrong, opened the scoring for The Saints, after some neat footwork by Nathan Redmond and Michael Obafemi, with a low drive into the far corner. Saints then doubled their lead with an inch-perfect free-kick from Cedric Soares flew into the top corner past David De Gea.
Romelu Lukaku returns to the scoresheet
After his staggering £75m signing from Everton, big things were expected from Lukaku. Before Saturday afternoon the Belgian had not scored in 11 matches, which equates to over 1000 minutes of Premier League football. For any striker this is a worrying statistic, especially for a striker of Lukaku’s calibre. However, the way he took his chance today wasn’t indicative of someone who was lacking form or confidence in front of goal.
We have seen him miss plenty of chances this season from similar positions, but the Belgian gave Alex McCarthy the eyes and thumped the ball into the right-hand side of the goal, convincingly. Mourinho’s decision to keep him in the side week in week out has finally paid off as the striker looked extremely dangerous, causing the Southampton back line all sorts of problems with his strength and pace.
Lukaku has always been known as a confidence player, and with that elusive goal under his belt it may be his time to step up and help Manchester United out of their slump.
Stuart Armstrong strikes again
It is hardly a secret that Southampton have had a shocking start to this season’s Premier League campaign, with only nine points after 13 games. However, the recent introduction of Stuart Armstrong into the side has been an enormous boost for the Saints. Three goals in his last two games have seen the Scot cement his place into the starting line-up. After moving from Celtic in the summer, Mark Hughes has played the Midfielder 10 times in the league, only starting three of these appearances.
Armstrong has now proved his worth in this Saints side as he has already equalled his goal tally for the previous season at Celtic, where he participated in 27 games for the Scottish League Champions. While still on a relatively poor run, the Saints can hold on to their hopes as if Armstrong and their team continue this intensity throughout the season, relegation will surely be avoided, and comfortably.
The Master of Draws
Southampton have had the most draws out of any Premier League side this season (six), and two of these have been from winning position’s while being 2-0 up against Brighton and this weekend against Manchester United. They were severe offenders for a draw last season also, racking up the most draws across Europe’s top five leagues (15). So, what is the issue?
The Saints go through passages of play which contradict their position in the league entirely, even having spells against Manchester City where they did not look out of their depth. The problem arises when they do go in front. The confidence is sucked from the side. Their sheer desperation for a win sends the team into a state of panic, where silly mistakes are made, and goals are gifted to the opposition.
This weekend was a perfect example as for United’s second goal there was little, or no pressure at all for the United players and three passes split the whole side open, which allowed Rashford an opportunity to worm his way into the box and square the ball to Herrera. It’s defensive errors such as this, and lacking concentration that is Southampton’s downfall. The manager generally tends to get targeted in this occasion, however, with similar issues spanning across two managerial era’s it may just be down to the players to give themselves the confidence which they need to see a game through to the end and collect those ever needed three points.
Manchester United have conceded 23 goals this season. Thirteen games in, this is unacceptable for a side who want to be pushing for a place in the Champions League. United’s only saving grace this season has been their ability to capture late winners as they are currently second in the Premier League for goals scored in the last 15 minutes of a game, with seven.
It could be argued that this is Mourinho’s plan but most United fans would like to see attacking football from the start, especially with talents such as Martial and Rashford in the team. Mourinho’s decision to bench Martial was a controversial one as the Frenchman has easily been one of, if not Manchester United’s best player in the games leading up to this with 6 goals to his name and 3 of those coming in his last three appearances, and when he came on today his quick feet and pace troubled Southampton.
Whether it’s his attitude towards Mourinho or something else behind the scenes it baffles the neutral as to why the 22-year-old Frenchman isn’t starting for the Red Devils. Other questionable changes, such as bringing in McTomminay into the team causes disruption. Mourinho needs to find his solid starting 11 soon if he has hopes of reaching a Champions League place by the end of the season. However, at this rate, they will be struggling to qualify for the Europa League.
After rumours speculating of a change in management for the Saints, a significant result for Mark Hughes was necessary. While the effect could be seen as two points lost, I’m almost sure that in their current state of affairs, most Saints fans would have taken a point against Manchester United. After not scoring a goal in six consecutive appearances, The Saints have now scored four goals in their last two games which is a vast improvement.
However, their next three games include Arsenal and Tottenham, two sides which can cause some severe damage, especially with Harry Kane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang starting to hit top form. Any positive result will be cherished against these sides, and Mark Hughes will be hoping and praying that his tactics can see him and his team remain in their current status.