In a dramatic afternoon at Old Trafford, Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2.
The Red Devils fell behind 0-1 before fighting back to 2-1 ahead. An amazing equaliser put Saints level before a late stunner sealed it for Solskjaer’s men. With injuries still forcing some fringe players onto the field, we look at how they all fared.
Romelu Lukaku: Hit
Romelu Lukaku isn’t in Manchester United’s best XI, but with Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard injured, the big Belgian is in the side. He’s in decent form, bagging a brace to win United the match against Crystal Palace, but he began this game in seriously ropey form.
It wasn’t that his overall play had dipped, he was still playing fairly well. His movement was sharp and his link play good as ever, but his finishing? Oh goodness, gracious his finishing! Lukaku appeared to have lost the goal touch he displayed at Palace, whiffing on not one, not two but three glorious chances in the first half, then one in the second. With United trailing, things didn’t look good.
Then he came alive. A delightful pass put him in and he cut inside the excellent Jan Bednarek and slotted the ball into the far corner of the net. United led! And then Saints pulled level. But Lukaku never gave up and when Fred fed him a pass, Lukaku turned on it and, with defenders closing him down, he struck it beautifully with his right foot into the back of the net. Four misses but two enormous match-winning goals? Romelu Lukaku was channelling Andrew Cole this afternoon!
Alexis Sánchez: Miss
Whatever happened to Alexis Sánchez? The way the Chilean has so dramatically fallen off is the kind of baffling sporting phenomenon that needs its own ESPN 30 for 30 made about it, where it’s revealed that Alexis has been playing the last few years with a broken skull or string cheese for ligaments. Anything to make sense of how bad this world-class wonder has become.
Against Southampton, he was, a couple of delightful passes aside, pedestrian. He always produces a couple of wonderful passes in a game, that is something that won’t leave him, but his movement and dynamism have vanished. What compounds the issue is that, because he is still a perceptive passer, team-mates trust him with the ball and look to him, which slows United’s play to a halt.
Alexis was taken off in the 52nd minute (with an injury, although in all honesty if it had been a tactical change he couldn’t have complained) in the 53rd United were level and by the 59th they had taken the lead and were playing some thrusting and dynamic play. They later rebounded from an equaliser to score a late winner. Ouch. That has to hurt more than the injury!
Andreas Pereira: Hit
Pereira joined Manchester United a good few years ago as a teenage prospect, his talent has never been in question but United have struggled to find a role for him in their midfield. His ability to retain possession has seen people label him a 6 or “defensive midfielder,” but United don’t play the right kind of possession play for that, so whenever Pereira has played deep, he’s looked average.
However, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer switched formation and pushed him to be the most advanced United midfielder, he came to life. Suddenly he was bursting into space behind the Saints midfield and his great touch and technique came into play. He equalised for United with a breathtaking shot from the edge of the box, a curling free-kick-esque effort that Angus Gunn had no chance with. Then minutes later he was in position to see a cutback from Luke Shaw, racing to beat Maya Yoshida to the ball he rode the 50/50, kept his feet and slipped it through for Romelu Lukaku to equalise. A superb, game-changing display.
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Scott McTominay: Meh
Scott McTominay was the definition of meh against Saints. He wasn’t bad, for sure, but he wasn’t good either. This was a competent display at the base of midfield where he tackled and pressed Saints and then moved the ball on neatly. Nothing too special, but he didn’t really get a handle on the likes of Pierre-Emil Hjojberg and United’s lack of control of the game was partly down to him. That said: he was replacing Nemanja Matic who doesn’t do much more than that despite being paid much more and possessing almost no capacity to improve.
Diogo Dalot: Hit
Do Manchester United need a right-back? Obviously, Ashley Young cannot keep on being the starter for the club, but should United go for Aaron Wan-Bissaka? Or is Diogo Dalot a player of sufficient quality and drive? Well, if today was anything to go by, he is.
Dalot came on with United 0-1 down. He replaced Alexis Sánchez and played wing-back, instantly transforming United’s focus and direction. Suddenly there was pace and dynamism down the right, and whilst Dalot’s crossing wasn’t exactly pinpoint the fact that he sent the ball in quickly made such a difference in creating the kind of pressure under which Southampton would eventually buckle.
Fred Lives! With Andreas Pereira exhausted, the Brazilian came on with the score 2-2. It was a like-for-like change so no one was particularly excited, especially as Fred had failed to show anything like the quality he possesses since joining United. Fans understood that José Mourinho was perhaps to blame, but the Brazilian nevertheless looked useless.
Today Fred came on and whilst he wasn’t electrifying, he gave a brief glimpse of the genius he possesses as he turned played a delicious reverse pass at the top of the box, bamboozling the Southampton defence and sending Romelu Lukaku in to score. It was a risky pass, the kind of thing that just as easily could have failed, but it showed that the reason Fred has struggled is that he has always been trying to make a difference. Perhaps if he learns to relax and only take risks more judiciously (e.g. when it’s the 89th minute and you’re being held 2-2 at home) then he will really shine as a Manchester United player.