Southampton 1 Manchester United 2
Travelling all the way from Manchester to the South coast to play Southampton for a weekend match is a geographical nightmare, but to do it on a Monday night just to accommodate the TV schedule is even worse. So all credit to the thousands of United fans who made the long journey to cheer on the team so vocally, even though the team didn’t play particularly well, they saw their heroes win again to move into the top three of the Premier League.
The United team had a familiar look to it apart from the inclusion of Paddy McNair who was given the chance to shine again in defence, which meant that there was no starting place for Ander Herrera who had performed well in the last two home games. Once again Falcao was left on the bench as van Gaal confirmed this week that he is still not fit enough to play 90 mins.
The first half started with the United fans in fine voice. The team however, took their time to find their own rhythm. Until the 12th minute when Robin van Persie ran onto a horrendous back pass from the Saint’s Jose Fonte to open the scoring with a well taken strike under the keeper’s body.
On the quarter hour yet another blow for United with Smalling landing awkwardly and having to be replaced by Jonny Evans, himself making his return from an ankle problem. The injury jinx this season will just not go away. Maybe instead of a rehabilitation coach we need a witch doctor!
On the half hour mark Southampton drew level through Pelle. The build up to the equaliser came from a terrible square pass from Fellaini, who when possession was lost, didn’t put in any effort to chase back. At least this time he didn’t go to ground feigning a neck injury. Sorry to say it, but this was a Fellaini performance of old, not of recent matches.
Louis van Gaal made a tactical change on 39 minutes. McNair departed having been run ragged in the first half, with Herrera coming on. Carrick dropped into the back three to add experience and a steady head. At least United ended the first half on the attack with a cracking shot from van Persie into the side netting.
As the second half progressed United took more control but still managed to give the ball away too easily through bad passing, probably still feeling the effects of their Christmas party. Even captain Rooney managed to deliver a corner more suited to rugby union.
On 71 minutes United were awarded a free kick which was taken by Rooney to be met by Robin van Persie, who made a great run to the back post to guide a sublime left footed shot past keeper Forster. Another fine goal from van Persie that showed he still has quality in abundance when finishing.
The match ended angrily with a flurry a bad challenges and yellow cards. But United hung on to pick up another important three points. A large away end full of thousands of United fans, who never stopped singing throughout the match, greeted their man of the match hero Robin van Persie.
Not for the first time, and I’m sure not the last this season, I’m singing the praises of David De Gea, who made crucial saves to keep United in the match. It seems that not a game goes by in which he proves his importance to the team. While his defence are at sixes and sevens he is calm personified in goal.
With this fifth win on the bounce, United move up into third place in the league and within touching distance of City and Chelsea. Looking at the matches coming over the Christmas period there is no reason why van Gaal’s men can’t keep the winning streak going until the end of the year.
Then we enter the January transfer window, when I expect a top class central defender to be added to the squad, which has looked decidedly shaky at the back since the start of the season. I would also like to see a midfielder brought in, but one with the ability to break up opponents attacks, Kevin Strootman for example. Unfortunately players will also have to be released to lighten the wage load, those players are the likes of Anderson, who has become surplus to requirements under van Gaal.
Now United and the fans turn their attention to the big one. United vs Liverpool this coming Sunday at Old Trafford. After their highs of last season it’s good to see normal service has returned to Anfield, and it’s a perfect time to be playing them. Having sold Suarez to Barcelona, and a long term injury to Sturridge, they lack threat up front as Balotelli isn’t exactly pulling his weight. This is the biggest match for both sides of any season and I’m anticipating another fiery encounter, with United to come out on top of course.
Thanks again for reading my thoughts.