Anthony Martial scored a superb brace as Manchester United came from behind to beat Southampton 3-2 at St Mary’s Stadium this afternoon.
There was a scrappy start from both teams as Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin battled in midfield. However, Southampton looked the more dangerous of the two teams and they went in front when Graziano Pelle tapped in moments after David de Gea had wonderfully denied Sadio Mane. Southampton smelt blood after the goal and Pelle soon hit De Gea’s post with a low effort.
Thankfully, United survived the Southampton onslaught, grew into the game and eventually drew level when Martial showed great composure to twist, turn and score inside the penalty box. The strike signalled a change in momentum in the match and United started to threaten, with Morgan Schneiderlin fizzing an effort wide from a corner just before the break.
United continued to be positive after the break and Martial doubled his tally with a calm finish thanks to Maya Yoshida’s lazy backpass. It was a fantastic start to the second half for United but Southampton kept plugging away and it took a fabulous save from De Gea to stop Jose Fonte equalising after an hour played. United looked to have wrapped the game up when Juan Mata grabbed a third for United but Pelle got a goal back for the hosts late on. Fortunately for United they held on for all three points.
United, once again, were slow and ponderous during the opening exchanges of the game. They could have had no complaints if they were 3-0 down inside the opening 20 minutes.
As it happened, Pelle opened the scoring before hitting the post minutes later. United have been praised for their defensive efforts at points this season but Chris Smalling and Daley Blind were all at sea against the Saints as they managed to get shots away time and time again. At the other end of the pitch, Wayne Rooney barely had a touch of the ball.
United did end up getting themselves back into the game but it’s safe to say that supporters will want their team playing from the first whistle.
Van Gaal has deployed a number of different players in the No.10 role this season and Rooney was the latest to take up the position against Southampton behind Anthony Martial.
However, his contribution to United’s play in the first half was minimal. Dropping far too deep to get the ball, as he often does, Rooney couldn’t affect things up top. In fact, he completed just 19 passes, had zero shots and created zero chances in the first period. And it didn’t really get much better in the second half, despite United getting in front. It just really isn’t happening for him this term.
Waste of money? Nonsense! In truth, Martial had an extremely quiet first half but he has been brought to United to score goals and he did exactly that against Southampton.
Picking up the ball after Juan Mata had been dispossessed inside the box, Martial could have quite easily snatched at the chance for his first strike but he showed supreme composure to turn before slotting in. It was the only moment of real quality from United in the first period and one that belied Martial’s years.
For his second, a goal was never in doubt as he finished calmly following Yoshida’s awful backpass. It really was wonderful from the Frenchman. And you get the sense there is much more to come.
Martial has proven to be an excellent addition since his move on deadline day but keeping De Gea on the final day of the window may be equally as important for United.
With the score at 2-1, Fonte’s thumping header towards United’s goal looked for all the world to be going in. However, De Gea had other ideas and he somehow clawed the ball away with his left hand. It was a truly unbelievable stop and one that went a long way towards the win. Some have questioned whether De Gea is focused following his failed transfer to Real Madrid but he silenced any doubts with a fantastic performance at St Mary’s.
United were awful in the opening 25 minutes or so of the game but van Gaal will be delighted with the way they got themselves back into the clash before winning all three points.
They had their fair share of luck with Yoshida’s backpass and De Gea’s save from Fonte could have gone a lot differently, but United did what they had to do against Southampton and showed great mental resilience in the process. When Pelle scored in the final stages of the clash, United did well to dig in. Although performances have not always been up to scratch, van Gaal’s outfit look more like a solid unit with each passing week, which bodes well for the rest of the campaign.