Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Romelu Lukaku and Ander Herrera salvage a point at St Mary’s
Last Updated: 01/12/18 9:08pm
Manchester United came from two down to draw 2-2 at Southampton but it all seems such a struggle for this team, writes Adam Bate.
And so Manchester United’s winless run in the Premier League is extended to three games and the gap to leaders Manchester City rises to 16 points. Just 14 games into the campaign, it is already apparent that this is going to be a slog – one to endure rather than enjoy. The goal difference remains negative and so was the football in their 2-2 draw at Southampton.
United grind out draw
Manchester United fought back from two goals down to secure a point but their Premier League struggles continued with a 2-2 draw at Southampton.
After a summer of pushing for a new centre-back, Jose Mourinho might have afforded himself a wry smile at finding himself with only one available. Forced to play one midfielder in defence, he instead opted for two – Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay both asked to play out of position in a back three. Fred, signed for £52m, was still only on the bench.
Matic was partially culpable for the opening goal. His initial challenge was shrugged off before Nathan Redmond dribbled past Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini. When the ball came out to Stuart Armstrong in the right channel, Matic was too slow to get out to him and the Scotland international had the time to look up and pick his spot in the corner.
Southampton’s second goal was a brilliantly curled free-kick by Cedric Soares after Marcus Rashford had lunged in on Mario Lemina on the edge of his own area. United have now gone two down to Brighton, West Ham, Newcastle, Manchester City and Southampton this season. Five times already. The most since David Moyes. And it took him until March.
Perhaps understandably, United struggled to find any kind of fluency in the early stages but that’s hardly a new problem. Languishing well adrift of their rivals, this has long since become an exercise in mere points accumulation by a team seemingly waiting in vain for something – anything – to click into place. That’s unlikely if they keep playing at this tempo.
Just as they have against Chelsea, Newcastle and Juventus in the past two months, United showed enough spirit to come from behind to get something from the game. The problem here is not that these players do not want to get the job done, it is that they do not seem to know how to achieve it. Even when the momentum was with them it proved difficult.
Mourinho has been withering in his criticism of pundits and his accurate assessment of United’s flaws after the game certainly served to prove the point that it is much easier to describe what is going wrong than to solve it. He highlighted the lack of pressing from his players for the first goal and the poor decision-making in midfield thereafter.
“We do not have many mad dogs, ones who fight for the ball,” he said afterwards when discussing the lack of intensity in the middle of the park. If that criticism could apply to just about anyone in this team, his reference to players who “do not understand that simplicity is genius” could not fail to bring to mind the performance of Paul Pogba.
The Frenchman’s straightforward pass to Rashford provided the catalyst for United’s first goal but too often he failed to deliver the service that the team’s strikers needed. This was, in Mourinho’s words, complicated football, with one late attempt to flick the ball beyond his marker particularly annoying the coach. In total, Pogba surrendered possession 25 times.
As a consequence, the pressure that might have been expected to build up on a fragile Southampton team still waiting for their first home win of the season could not be sustained. In fact, Saints had twice as many shots as United in the second half and four times as many on target. The late push for a winner from the visitors simply never came.
United welcome Arsenal to Old Trafford on Wednesday and Mourinho will be hoping that both Rashford and Romelu Lukaku, who ended his long goal drought at St Mary’s, will be available for that one despite picking up knocks. He will certainly be without Ashley Young through suspension. It seems things will not be getting any easier. The struggle continues.