Five things we learned as Man United pegged back by Southampton
Michael Obafemi scored in injury time to deny United a crucial victory in the top-four race
on Monday night.Anthony Martial forced a great chance to run through and open the scoring early on but was denied, before Paul Pogba was caught in possession and Stuart Armstrong scored at the far post.United kept their own attacks going, though, and Pogba found Martial in the box to tee up Marcus Rashford for the equaliser—before producing a great solo strike himself minutes later.
Download the new Independent Premium appSharing the full story, not just the headlinesThe home side will feel they should have put the game out of sight in the second half, long before sub Michael Obafemi found a 94th-minute equaliser after a Saints corner.
Here are five things we learned from the game at Old Trafford.Michael Obafemi celebrates scoring the equaliser (Getty)Martial takes centre stageAnthony Martial is a man on a mission. A few of them, in truth: be United’s No. 9. Be United’s top scorer. Fire the team into the Champions League.
He’s doing a good job at attempting all three at present, with his confidence clearly sky high and the consistency which had previously been missing on occasions now making him a feared opponent on a weekly basis.A first-half strike to put United ahead was his 16th of the Premier League season and his fifth in as many games.
Add in the creative and selfless side to his game—runs off the ball, creating space, teeing up Rashford—and he is putting together a much more complete package as a centre-forwardSaints stay true to their rootsSouthampton score at Old Trafford (Getty)
Heading into the game, Southampton were the team with the most pressures of the ball in all of Europe’s top five leagues; that is, the team to press the most times an opponent who is in or receiving possession, anywhere on the pitch.In the attacking third of the pitch, only Liverpool and Bayern Munich had made more—and within minutes of kick-off at Old Trafford it was evident both how they had racked up so many and also that they were intent on adding to them.
Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl could be heard on the sidelines, urging his team on and into the challenge at every opportunity, while Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond, in particular, led the hunt for the ball.They appeared to target both Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Paul Pogba with those furious presses, earning possession high upfield off both players and creating chances as a result—including the game’s opening goal
Romeu should have seen redA late challenge by Saints midfielder Oriol Romeu on Mason Greenwood was a flashpoint of the first 45.The Spanish 28-year-old left his studs in and raked the United man’s calf, when the ball had already long departed the scene.
It wasn’t seen in-play and although the VAR took a look, it wasn’t seen by Lee Mason to be worthy of further action, either. Given the usual level of his on-field decisions, perhaps that’s not a surprise.Add in an elbow from Che Adams to the side of Victor Lindelof’s head, a sneaky handball from Kyle Walker-Peters to deliberately stop a counter-attack and a very late kick from Jack Stephens on Bruno Fernandes and there were several Saints challenges which must have been on the cusp of something more than a yellow card
Regular XI going against Ole?Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side dropped two points late on (2020 Pool)United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had a settled side of late, picking the same team several games in succession.While that has undoubtedly given the team greater fluidity on the ball and their strongest technical combinations in the starting XI, there’s a case to be made for the exact opposite appearing when subs are made.
Against Southampton, much of the midfield core was replaced—Fernandes and Pogba subbed off—and the those coming on have had far less involvement recently, with Fred getting around 20 minutes a game and just an hour or so of play for Scott McTominay since mid-June.
Earlier after the restart, teams were being rotated regularly and the subs were made in batches, meaning a more level playing field between impact and fitness for the whole squad. Now Solskjaer is effectively banking on 11 players winning him the game, and those coming on didn’t have the same impact—when the match was far from over.
It’s also worth noting that the home side were down to 10 men at the time due to Brandon Williams going off, though it’s not necessarily something which would have a direct effect on the number of players defending a set-pieceChampions League pressure returns
Top five could have, but in the end only the top four will provide Champions League spots for next season as usual, after Manchester City’s European ban was overturned.That looked like not being a concern for Solskjaer, as his team have been on a good run of results just as Chelsea and Leicester show their own inconsistencies—but that late Obafemi goal is the difference between third and fifth.
Leicester will feel they have been given a massive let-off after a dismal defeat to Bournemouth at the weekend, but they now only lead United on goal difference.Still, they’ll know if they win all three remaining games they are in, guaranteed—and the same goes for Solskjaer and his players, for that matter, as the Foxes and Red Devils could effectively face a play-off match on the final game of the season for the last Champions League spot.
Form heading into that game could be everything, and despite dropping two points later on here, United have far more cohesion and self-belief in their play than Brendan Rodgers’ men do right now. Read more: The Independent »
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