A makeshift defence, David De Gea saving the day, wingers turning wing-backs and yet another injury. That explains not only United’s season so far but also summarises their latest match against Southampton. Manchester United went into the match with 3 centre halves in Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and a young Paddy McNair. Also, they had Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young occupying the wing backs positions in the absence of Rafael and Luke Shaw. Although they lacked a strong defence ahead of this match, United definitely did not lack quality in front of the goal. Robin Van Persie was up front accompanied by Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata adeptly playing behind the two. Southampton on the other hand had problems of their own with Morgan Schneiderlin out injured who has been a real talisman for them so far this season. They were also without Toby Alderweilreld and Jay Rodriguez but had Graziano Pellè back in front of goal.
The United players did not look comfortable playing in a 3-5-2 formation. This was very much evident in the first few minutes when the United defence line showed signs of nervousness and had to thank the erratic finishing of Shane Long for not being behind. Just when it was all going right for them, they suffered another setback when Chris Smalling had to be substituted because of an injury. Johnny Evans was brought on for him. United were there for the taking until José Fonte committed a horrendous error by passing the ball back to the keeper only for Robin Van Persie to get his feet on the ball and score from their sloppiness. The goal did not affect their confidence and Southampton went on to equalise. This time it was a United player who was sloppy. Marouane Fellaini casually passed the ball to a Southampton player which lead to a great counter attack leading to a goal by Graziano Pellè. Marouane Fellaini had a 45 minutes he would not like to remember. The player with the afro was all over the place and was falling prey to the fact that critics say that he is not a ‘United’ player. McNair seemed lost and low on confidence which was also seen by his manager who substituted him in the 39th minute. The referee blew the whistle for the end of first half which might have given the United players 15 minutes of breathing time. But after a wasteful 45 minutes, Louis van Gaal might not have afforded them those minutes. Ronald Koeman on the other hand would have been happy with his side’s performance but he would have liked his team to take their chances.
The start to the second half was no different to that of the first half. United continued with their wasteful passing and Southampton kept asking questions. Although, after 10 minutes into the second half, United started growing in the game. They were still not playing great but were able to control the game in flashes. It was in one of these flashes, they got a free kick 40 yards from goal. Wayne Rooney stepped up and his curling ball was well judged by his fellow strike partner Robin Van Persie who scored on the far post. United were nowhere near average, let alone best but they lead the game 2-1 after 71 minutes. With 19 minutes plus stoppage time still left to play, The Saints continued their attacks but were unable to breach David De Gea’s goal who again made a few match winning saves from Shane Long and Pelle. United held on for the rest of the match and secured all 3 points for the 5th time in a row which took them to 3rd spot in the league table. The win left them with two points above Southampton who are now in 5th spot and 8 points behind league leaders Chelsea. On the other hand, Southampton who had started the season brightly and were only 3 points behind league leaders Chelsea in 2nd spot a few weeks ago, have now only taken 1 point of 12 after losing to both Manchester clubs and Arsenal while drawing their game to Aston Villa. The Saints seem to have a halt on their march.
Louis Van Gaal had asked the world to give him 3 months to judge. Well, it has taken a bit longer than 3 months but probably now his players are playing according to his philosophy. United have jumped 7 places in 5 games and Louis Van Gaal might be on the way of building something special. United have been very unfortunate with injuries. He might just get them play better and get the results once he has a full squad to choose his eleven from.