Manchester United battled back from a two-goal deficit to secure a hard-fought point against Southampton at St. Mary’s in Saturday’s evening kick-off – but neither side left particularly happy. Who struggled while others impressed under the lights down the south Coast?
Fantastic goals from Stuart Armstrong and a Cedric Soares free-kick saw the hosts race into a 2-0 lead after just 20 minutes, but even the most skeptical viewer would have been aware of the Saints’ defensive frailties.
Romelu Lukaku scored his first league goal since September to halve the deficit, before Ander Herrera’s deft backheel finish levelled the scoring on the stroke of half-time. Neither side were able to take advantage in the second-half, during a frustrating watch from a neutral perspective.
With that in mind, here’s a look at Five Hits and Flops from a frenetic affair on the south Coast:
#5 Flop: Scott McTominay
It feels slightly harsh to criticise the 21-year-old too tough, but he continues to stick out like a sore thumb in Manchester United’s makeshift backline – alongside Nemanja Matic – both of whom are defensive midfielders.
The real issue lies with Mourinho, who clearly doesn’t feel confident enough to utilise the Scottish international in his preferred midfield role given the amount of competition there is for places there. However, it’s where he is most comfortable and on this occasion, there were moments you could see that too. Whenever playing out from the back with the ball at his feet, he looked comfortable and assured.
With that being said, Southampton raced into a two-goal lead and Scott didn’t cover himself in glory. Was beaten far too easily whenever the hosts – namely Nathan Redmond – accelerated forward and doesn’t provide you with much confidence that he’ll win possession when committing to challenges.
That’s partly due to indecision, as he’s usually unsure whether to press and attempt a tackle or delay the oncoming attacker, shifting them onto their weaker foot or waiting for additional defensive support. He looked quite nervy in transition and while Matic nor Phil Jones were fantastic, the pair showed why they’ve been mainstays under Jose Mourinho. He has much to learn.
#4 Hit: Mario Lemina
A special mention goes to the Saints’ two teenagers – Yan Valery and Michael Obafemi – who did well in their respective positions, while goalscorer Stuart Armstrong worked tirelessly and Redmond was refreshingly threatening throughout.
However, there was one player who stood out above all: Mario Lemina. It was an accomplished display from an experienced midfielder who knew he needed to step up against an unpredictable United side on this occasion.
In fact, it proved to be one of his best performances of the campaign and deservedly received a warm reception from the home crowd when substituted in stoppage-time.
He was a problem, both on and off-the-ball, as he proved tough to dispossess and was excellent in possession. All the while, he impressed defensively alongside captain Pierre-Emile Højbjerg – who was booked shortly after the half-hour mark.
A team-high five tackles, three interceptions, blocked shot and cynical foul on Paul Pogba which resulted in a yellow card of his own, it was fun to watch the pair’s midfield battle. He completed three dribbles, was fouled four times and enjoyed a game-high 97.4% pass accuracy (38 completed).
#3 Flop: Maya Yoshida
Another disappointing showing from Maya Yoshida, who at 30-years-old, isn’t getting any better…
He’s a long-serving player on the south Coast, having joined back in 2012 – but his defending just isn’t good enough, particularly against quick attackers. They have conceded goals aplenty this season and their inconsistent backline hasn’t done them any favours, something that Yoshida himself said he was eager to help fix.
He has only made four league appearances to date in 2018/19, and it’s not a surprise that their four clean sheets have been earned with him either on the substitutes’ bench or not involved altogether. The centre-back pairing of Wesley Hoedt and Jack Stephens has done well, while Jannik Vestergaard has been good too.
This display would not have done him any favours in terms of nailing down a starting berth, as he was frequently being bullied by the combination of Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku in-and-around the box on a plethora of occasions.
He was skinned by Rashford in the build-up to both of the visitors’ goals: the first, he tried to commit to a challenge and ended up stumbling over himself, allowing the 21-year-old space to run at Stephens before teeing up Lukaku. For their equaliser, he let Rashford continue his marauding run from outside the box to the byline, failed to block a low delivery fizzed across the area, allowing Herrera a free shot on-goal.
Stats can be deceiving and in this instance, they are: one tackle, four interceptions and five clearances – he failed to defend when needed most. Really not convincing in one-on-one battles and it didn’t make for good viewing from a neutral perspective.
#2 Hit: Marcus Rashford
He gets plenty of criticism for his poor finishing, questionable decision-making and the like, but Marcus Rashford was impressive for an out-of-sorts United here.
He set up Lukaku’s goal with a smart pass into his feet – nutmegging the onrushing Stephens, having just bullied Yoshida off-the-ball. Then, he accelerated beyond the Japanese centre-back and delivered a low pass across the box for Herrera’s equaliser – the Spaniard couldn’t really miss.
It’s been a tough few weeks for him as questions persist whether he should stay in Manchester or leave for his development elsewhere, where patience and persistence are encouraged more. Match commentators were rightly baffled as to why he was being replaced with 15 minutes to play, being one of the visitors’ chief attacking threats, but he suffered an ankle knock and precautionary measures probably came into play.
It was an encouraging display from someone who has been short of confidence recently, one that he needs to boost his morale. A game-high four key passes, three completed dribbles and two influential assists – he now has 20 for Manchester United.
#1 Hit: Ander Herrera
Last but certainly not least, the Man of the Match accolade goes to Ander Herrera. It was his deft backheel finish which left Alex McCarthy no chance from close-range to equalise on the stroke of half-time, though the Spaniard picked his moments to get forward and was rightly cautious following the hosts’ fast start.
He had to be so astute defensively and displayed good spatial awareness, remaining concentrated as the Saints enjoyed various threatening spells throughout. Completing a game-high seven tackles, two interceptions, one clearance and blocked shot, he certainly didn’t shy away from his defensive responsibilities.
With 93.3% pass accuracy (60 completed passes), this was easily his best performance of the campaign and just like Rashford, he needed it. Going into the tough Christmas schedule with rotation and fixtures coming thick-and-fast, it’s likely the 29-year-old will be utilised more by Jose in future.
Before this fixture, he’d only made two league starts this term – so the cynic in me has to suggest perhaps he’s playing for a move away with interested suitors across Europe. His contract expires next summer and the Red Devils don’t have an extension clause in his existing deal, while the player himself doesn’t seem intent on agreeing new terms yet. Interesting.
Stats’ source: WhoScored