Manchester United edged past Southampton on Saturday afternoon in what was a hard-fought 1-0 win for Erik Ten Hag’s side, a win that saw the Reds earn back-to-back victories for the first time in the Premier League since February.
How did United set up?
There is an old saying in football that you should not change a winning team, and Ten Hag was of that belief for the trip down South, with the Dutchman naming an unchanged starting eleven.
This meant that Cristiano Ronaldo was on the bench for a second game on the bounce, as was club captain Harry Maguire. Fans would have been pleased to see Casemiro on the substitutes bench following his expensive transfer from Real Madrid recently.
Here were the starting lineup and substitutes…Embed from Getty Images
Starting XI: David De Gea (GK), Diogo Dalot (RB), Raphael Varane (CB), Lisandro Martinez (CB), Tyrell Malacia (LB), Scott McTominay (CM), Christian Eriksen (CM), Bruno Fernandes (CAM), Jadon Sancho (RW), Anthony Elanga (LW), Marcus Rashford (ST).
Subs: Tom Heaton, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Casemiro, Fred, Donny van de Beek, Alejandro Garnacho, Cristiano Ronaldo.
How it went down.
In what was an uninspiring start to the game from both teams, Fernandes provided the first real bit of action with an audacious long-range effort in the first ten minutes, but the effort was nowhere near the quality required to beat Gavin Bazunu.
There was a wholesome moment in the 10th minute as a round of applause broke out at St Mary’s in memory of Southampton player David Armstrong, who passed away recently. Armstrong was a member of the Saints squad that finished runners-up in Division One in 1983-84.Embed from Getty Images
Dalot sent in an enticing cross not long afterwards after being found in space down the right flank, but it was just too high and wide of Fernandes’ head.
The best chance of the half undoubtedly came in the 19th minute when Fernandes, Eriksen and Elanga were all denied from close range in quick succession in what was heroic defending. It has to be said, though, that one of the United players should have put the ball in the back of the net.
Che Adams managed to find half a yard of space on Martinez inside the penalty area, but the Englishman’s effort was straight at De Gea, with the shot-stopper making a comfortable save not long before the break.
There were no changes from either side at the interval, with both managers seemingly content with what their players had shown so far.
McTominay found himself in an unfamiliar position not long after the second half had kicked off, but the Scotsman’s volley was palmed away after he did well to find the space in the right-hand side of the area.
A quick bit of interchange between Elanga and Eriksen was shut down minutes later when Armel Bella-Kotchap made a brilliant last-ditch tackle. Elanga had started the move by running in directly from the right wing, something that he did a lot of after half-time.
The visitors took a classy lead in the 55th minute when Elanga made another of those runs; the young Sweden international fizzed it in centrally to Sancho, who returned it back out to the wing where Dalot picked up possession. Then, after looking up and spotting Fernandes, the right-back put in a low cross to find his fellow Portuguese teammate who made no mistake in finding the bottom corner with pace and precision. It was slick and tidy stuff from the Red Devils.Embed from Getty Images
Ralph Hasenhuttl responded by replacing Mohamed Elyounoussi with Stuart Armstrong around the hour mark, but a composed United defence were keeping the home side comfortably at bay.
The trailing team’s best chance to draw level came in the 66th minute when Joe Aribo managed to get a header away inside the six-yard box, but his goal-bound strike was met well by the hands of De Gea in the United goal.
Ronaldo was on for Sancho and the former nearly had a sight of goal after picking possession up on the right of the United attack, but after a struggle with Mohamed Salisu, the chance had gone for the Portuguese superstar.
Adam Armstrong was replaced by Sekou Mara as the hosts looked to find an equaliser, and this was met by Casemiro replacing Elanga to make his debut for the club in the club’s not-so infamous green strip.
A couple more changes from Hasenhuttl late on were not enough to inspire a toothless Southampton side to a leveler, with the best opportunity in stoppage time coming from a Mara overhead kick that was cleared by Dalot. It did not even look on target after seeing replays, which summed up the afternoon for the frustrated home fans.
Final score: Southampton 0-1 Manchester United (Fernandes 55’)
Man of the matchEmbed from Getty Images
It was another stellar showing from the same defence that played a massive part in the victory over Liverpool last Monday. Dalot, Varane, Martinez and Malacia were superb from minute one to minute ninety and each of them could once again stake a claim to be man of the match.
Yet, for many fans, Lisandro Martinez was the one who edged it in terms of his individual performance down South.
The Argentine did what he did best through showing his aggression in ground duels, often coming away with possession or making a clearance. His ability in the air has been questioned by many mainstream pundits in recent weeks, standing at just over 5 ft 9 inches tall, but the 24-year-old won 5/5 of his aerial battles against Southampton, which was more than any other player on the pitch.
The partnership with the rest of the defence is refreshing to see. After a shaky start to his Premier League career with Maguire at his side, the former Ajax man is really starting to come into his own under the wing of an experienced serial winner in Varane.
Hopefully, there is more to come from Martinez.
The bigger pictureEmbed from Getty Images
It was by no means a scintillating showing from United in the one-goal victory, but it was a workmanlike, resilient performance from a set of players that have lacked those traits for the majority of the calendar year, so fans cannot be too displeased.
If someone would have offered you after the humiliation at Brentford a couple of weeks ago that United would beat Liverpool and Southampton in the next two games, scoring three and conceding just the one, you would have to be a fool not to have taken it.
It was not a vintage Ten Hag display, but that will take time to implement. It was never going to be efficient, possession-based football from the get-go under the new manager, because the majority of the squad have become accustomed to pragmatic, defensive football that relies on moments of brilliance under previous managers in recent seasons.
Every game is a step towards making further progress. The defence look like a real tight unit. Each of the defenders look determined and passionate to not concede when they embrace each other after making a block, save, clearance, or tackle. Fans have not seen that at United in a long time.
Also, it is back-to-back wins for Ten Hag’s men after the worst possible start, so fans will hope that it is onwards and upwards from here.
Next up for United is a trip to the King Power Stadium, where the Reds will face Leicester City on Thursday 1st September at 20:00 (BST).