Man Utd vs Southampton Match Report (Utd survive spirited Saints attack)By: Ian | January 31st, 2013
Following City’s draw against QPR, Utd had a chance to push the league lead back up to seven points against Southampton last night. Whilst the outcome was ultimately the one required, Sir Alex’s post-match statement that Southampton were ‘the best side to play here this season’ highlighted that this was no one-sided contest. Utd lined up with De Gea, Jones, Vidic, Smalling, Evra, Welbeck, Anderson, Carrick, Kagawa, Rooney and Van Persie (the first time the latter two have played together since November or something like that). Personally, a complete lack of wingers put up a few red flags before the game got underway for me, with Southampton also lining up with an attacking formation, which they deployed superbly throughout.
Utd started badly and conceded first (just dusting that line off from this season’s archives there). It was three minutes in, with Southampton in the Utd half, when Carrick intercepted play. Oddly, he tried to volley a looped pass back to De Gea, but there was no power in the ball. De Gea came for it, with Jay Rodriguez spotting the opportunity for Saints. Rodriguez got there before the keeper, De Gea couldn’t kick it, and the Saints man just rolled it into an empty net. 1-0 to Saints and a shocking mistake from Utd. Carrick has since declared himself accountable for the error, De Gea maybe could have done a little more but maybe didn’t want to risk giving away a penalty, but overall he should never have been put in that situation. Terrible start, but fortunately, Utd weren’t behind for long.
Utd pressed forward instantly and reaped the rewards. Kagawa took control after Carrick’s attempted ball was deflected, and notched a great ball through to Rooney, who timed the run perfectly. He swept the ball past the keeper and parity was restored by the 8th minute. So often the way that a team like Southampton might have preferred that Carrick mistake to have happened a bit later, too early and a team like Utd just have so much time to gear themselves up in response. Anyway, 1-1 it was, and it was close to 2-1 for the Reds in the next play as Rooney turned provider this time, but Kagawa’s effort clipped the post and ran across the goal. No one was available to turn it up, not even a disorientated defender, so equal scores it remained.
Nigel Adkins’ removal as Southampton boss was utterly bizarre and extremely odd as Saints were in a good place. However, whilst the board might be a few nuts short of a Meccano set, new man Mauricio Pochettino’s strategy of playing high and heavy in number was making itself evident. Very rarely do you see an opposition ball lofted forward towards Utd’s goal for five or six players to be in the vicinity. Nevertheless, they didn’t click in the first half the way they did in the second and for the time being, Utd had the upper hand. Van Persie had a shot deflected wide, but his next attempt was instrumental in Utd’s second on 27 minutes. The Dutchman whipped in a free kick towards the back post. It found the head of Evra, who jumped excellently to play the ball back across goal, with Rooney there for a simple tap-in. Splendid work and 2-1 to Utd.
Evra had a shot of his own, but wide, as play continued with Utd dominant. Van Persie didn’t seem at his most clinical, evident particularly after being released in a fine move involving Rooney and Kagawa. Welbeck did get his attempt on target after cutting in on his left foot, but Boruc palmed it away. The break came with Utd perhaps wishing they had converted a few more chances when they saw how Saints decided to play in the second half. Lambert started getting involved more, forcing De Gea into action to hold his volley, before pumping another effort off target. Fresh legs from substitutes Davis and Lallana seemed to pick up the visitor’s energy levels, the first of the pair also trying his luck with an off-target attempt. Lambert had a free kick on target, but De Gea collected as Sir Alex descended down to the touchline, visibly concerned with how well Southampton were pressing. The Utd substitutes signalled his wish to just hold on now, as Ferdinand replaced Smalling, with Rafael coming on shortly after, along with Nani. It took until the 71st minute to Utd to chalk up a meaningful second-half effort, but Rooney’s shot was tame.
Finally, some quality came as Nani’s ball soared in to meet the head of RVP, but the Dutchman’s header was met by the hands of Boruc in a brilliant snap save. It could have gone straight between his hands just as easily, but Van Persie seemed astonished he hadn’t scored. He then did, as Rooney supplied, with offside flagged to cut short his celebrations. Another free kick at the other end saw De Gea flying across his goal to keep out Lambert, with Utd’s response seeing Van Persie flick onto Rooney. Although looking certain to make it three, Wazza’s first touch was untidy, the second heavy, with Boruc having plenty of time to prevent any danger. Schneiderlin blasted an effort over, with Lambert a permanent irritant to the defence. Ninety three minutes came just in time, with Southampton still desperately, and valiantly, trying to earn a point.
In the end, Utd took the three points, but it was a close fought game. However good the Reds were at times in the first half, that was more than balanced with Saints’ bravery in the second. Pochettino praised his players through an interpreter in his interview, but he was frustrated the dominance had produced results. He can take heart that it probably would have done against most other teams, but Utd held firm on this occasion. Therefore, the lead is extended to a comfortable seven points with Fulham up next on Saturday. A repeat of the FA Cup game scoreline would be most welcome, with Everton then visiting Old Trafford shortly before the Reds fly out to Madrid.
If you get this far, thoughts and comments on the match below please.