Wayne Rooney made his return to the Manchester United line-up as they ran out 3-2 winners over Southampton at St Mary’s in what must surely go down as a missed opportunity for Southampton.
The Saints started the game brightly and were rewarded with the opening goal just 12 minutes in. Sadio Mane and James Ward-Prowse exchanged passes to set up Mane in the box who took a shot but was denied by a brilliant reflex save by David De Gea. Unfortunately for De Gea the ball fell kindly for Graziano Pelle a few yards out who made no mistake in putting it into the corner of the net.
The Manchester United defence could have and should have done better in preventing the ball from getting into their box and tracking the run of Pelle.
Southampton continued to look the better side until they conceded a controversial equaliser just past the half hour mark. Juan Mata, who was stood in an offside position when the ball was played, goes through on goal but is tackled before he can get his shot away but not to worry as the ball rolled kindly for Anthony Martial. Martial used his quick feet to turn Virgil van Dijk inside out before very calmly finishing.
It was lovely stuff from Martial with poor defensive work from the Southampton defence who just couldn’t get the ball away but Mata was offside in the buildup and it should have been disallowed.
Five into the second half Manchester United doubled their lead through who else but Martial, who had scored three goals without even playing 90 minutes for United, after an awful awful mistake by Maya Yoshida.
Yoshia tried to play a backpass to Maarten Stekelenburg without looking and completely underpowered it allowing Martial to take a gamble, nipping in and intercepting the ball to put him one on one with the Southampton keeper. Cool and calm as anything Martial waiting for Stekelenburg to commit but rolling the ball into the far corner of the net.
A silly silly mistake to give away.
With a little over 20 minutes left Manchester United extended their lead thanks Mata. After a lot of patient passing the ball found its way to Memphis Depay who burst into action running into the box before smashing a shot which hit the post, bouncing out to Mata on the edge of the area who fired it home.
The Southampton players were just stood around ball watching. No one went to close Mata down, no one tried to intercept the ball and clear it. Very poor defending.
But it was a nervy finish for United as Pelle pulled one back for Southampton very late into the game. Mane swinging in a cross from out on the right hand side which Pelle rose to meet before firing a bullet of a header past De Gea into the top corner.
There was one unsavoury moment towards the end when, with his side trailing 3-1, Sadio Mane blatantly dived in the box in the hope of winning his side a penalty. Replays showed there was zero contact. If he had stayed on his feet instead of diving he could have perhaps got a shot away.
Aren’t the FA meant to be clamping down on diving this season with retrospective punishment? If so Mane should be in for a three match ban for it. The worst part is that had he not gone down he could have got a shot away.
Southampton started the game really well. They were in control of things and had a couple of chances to double their lead but as soon as Manchester United scored the equaliser Southampton seemed to drain of confidence. They became second best and lost control of the game.
Watching the match you could see the momentum shift at that moment and it seemed inevitable that Manchester United would win. Once they got their equaliser they grew into the game, gained some confidence and took control of it.
David De Gea is still hugely important for Manchester United. He made some fantastic saves to deny Southampton and keep his side in things.
The Manchester United defence however still needs some work. Both Southampton goals came from out on the right where Daley Blind was and both times he failed to prevent the ball from going in. Luke Shaw’s absence could be an issue, the defence was finally beginning to look settled but has now been forced into changes.
Manchester United weren’t spectacular but they did enough to get the win. As for Southampton they can moan about the offside goal changing the game but it was the mistake by Yoshida and their players switching off at the back they really cost them.