Robin van Persie scores twice as Louis van Gaal’s side move up to third in Premier League
- Robin van Persie capitalised on a Jose Fonte error to give Manchester United an early first half lead
- Graziano Pelle equalised for Southampton in the 31st minute with a blistering left-footed strike
- Van Persie restored United’s lead on 71 minutes with the outside of his left-foot from a Wayne Rooney free-kick
- The Red Devils have won five straight league games, while Saints have lost their last three matches
- Van Persie proved United’s star man, while Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata had shockers
The mark of a good team is they play poorly and win. Not as poorly as this, mind you. Manchester United were very ordinary indeed at Southampton. Still, this is their fifth consecutive victory under Louis Van Gaal and they have clawed their way up to third in the Premier League, so they must have something.
What they had on Monday night was a world class finisher in Robin van Persie. Since his title-winning first season at United he has often been criticised but this was one of those occasions when he was the difference. Poor defending from Southampton – horrid for the first goal, in fact – was equally responsible for United’s win, but a lesser striker would not have taken his only two chances of the game with such assurance. To nutmeg the goalkeeper twice is no accident. Van Persie knew what he was doing.
If only the same could be said for the rest of his team. United’s defence still has little on its side but mystery at times, and Marouane Fellaini is as capable of having a bad game as a good one. Credit Van Gaal with swiftness of thought, though. Sensing that Fellaini was struggling in the heart of midfield, he introduced Ander Herrera at the expense of Paddy McNair after 39 minutes. Having already lost Chris Smalling to injury, it was a bold move. You can see where his protege Jose Mourinho gets it from.
Robin van Persie proved Manchester United’s matchwinner scoring both goals in a 2-1 win at Southampton on Monday night
Van Persie (front) scored the decisive goal for United in the 71st minute following a Wayne Rooney free-kick
Van Persie (centre) watches on as his left-footed shot pokes through the legs of Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster
The 31-year-old is mobbed by his United team-mates as they celebrate his strike in front of the travelling away supporters
MATCH FACTS, STATS, TABLE AND RATINGS
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Forster 5.5; Clyne 6, Fonte 5, Yoshida 6, Bertrand 6; Steven Davis 7, Wanyama 6.5; Long 6.5 (Mayuka 79, N/A), Tadic 6.5 (Hesketh 70, 6), Mane 6, Pelle 7.
Subs not used: Kelvin Davis, Gardos, , Isgrove, Reed, Targett.
Goal: Pelle 31
Booked: Mane, Fonte
Manager: Ronald Koeman 6.5
Man Utd (3-5-2): De Gea 6.5; McNair 5 (Herrera 38, 6), Smalling 5.5 (Evans 16, 6), Rojo 6; Valencia 5.5, Carrick 6.5, Fellaini 5, Mata 4.5 (Fletcher 89, N/A), Young 5.5; Van Persie 8, Rooney 6.5.
Subs not used: Lindegaard, Falcao, Januzaj, Wilson.
Goals: Van Persie 12, 71
Manager: Louis van Gaal 7
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire) 7
MOTM: Van Persie
Player ratings by Ralph Ellis
United were impressive in the last 20 minutes when, having gone in front against the run of play for a second time, they toughed it out as the better teams do. David De Gea was impressive in that period, so too Jonny Evans, Smalling’s replacement. He hadn’t played a league game since September but held up well to what little Southampton had to offer by that time.
To be fair, they looked stunned at what had unfolded. At 1-1 many here were no doubt thinking of this as two points dropped: suddenly they had surrendered all three. Quality players make the difference. Van Persie had two good chances and scored two goals. Shane Long was in similarly excellent positions either side of half-time and missed both. The game was won and lost right there.
There were 12 minutes gone when Van Persie gave United the lead from their first attack of note. Credit to Wayne Rooney who did well to apply pressure to centre-half Jose Fonte, but he cannot have expected to force such a thoughtlessly blind back pass. It fell to the prowling Van Persie, leaving him one on one with Fraser Forster. England’s understudy advanced but Van Persie’s smart finish went straight through his legs. At that point, it looked as if it might be another sobering occasion for Southampton against their superiors, following recent reverses to Manchester City and Arsenal.
But no. Ronald Koeman’s team quickly rallied and within three minutes, Graziano Pelle had headed a Steven Davis corner just wide. From Southampton’s next attack, they were level. Fellaini played a desperately poor pass straight to the feet of Davis who went on a marauding run into the penalty area, feeding Pelle, who was tackled. The ball ran to Long wide on the right and his cross was met by Dusan Tadic, whose shot was charged down, only to run to Pelle, finishing from close range.
United boss Louis van Gaal (left) and his Saints counterpart Ronald Koeman shake hands before the match despite their differences
Van Persie gave United an early first half lead after capitalising on Southampton captain Jose Fonte’s mistake
Van Persie (top) read and intercepted Fonte’s attempted pass to Forster (bottom) before nutmegging the Southampton goalkeeper
Van Persie (right) watches on as his shot is destined for the bottom corner of Southampton’s empty net
United captain Wayne Rooney (centre) and Ashley Young (left) are the first to congratulate Van Persie on his strike
Van Persie (centre left) also celebrates his goal with a hug from young defender Paddy McNair (second left)
United were forced into an early defensive change when Chris Smalling (left) pulled a thigh injury
Smalling (left) had to be helped off the field by a United physio midway through the first half at St Mary’s
And that set the pattern of the game for the next 40 minutes at least. Southampton should have been three clear when United scored. In first-half injury time, Nathaniel Clyne crossed from the right, Sadio Mane won the ball and it fell to Long who missed an excellent opportunity at the near post.
The second-half continued in much the same fashion, little more than five minutes old when Tadic hit a cross to create another excellent chance at the far post for Long, once again squandered. After 60 minutes, Tadic played the pass of the night to put Pelle in, but Southampton were found wanting in front of goal a third time.
Those who followed United through the glory years had seen it all before. Mistakes like that get punished. And sure enough, 71 minutes in, Southampton were handed the bill for their profligacy.
Rooney swung in the free-kick, Van Persie lost his man at the far post and the merest clipped touch did the rest. It was a lovely, intelligent, finish – far harder than he made it look, and it sucked the life out of the opposition. At that moment, Southampton were outnumbering United on chances by a ratio of virtually five to one. After it, they seemed lifeless and subdued. ‘We didn’t lose to Manchester United,’ said Koeman, ‘we lost against ourselves.’ He had a point.
Graziano Pelle (second left) soon brought Southampton on level terms when he rifled home their equaliser in the 31st minute
Pelle (left) watches on as his left-footed shot soars into the top corner for the south coast side
The Italy international celebrates his strike in front of a jubilant home crowd at St Mary’s on Monday night
Pelle (centre) is congratulated on his strike against United by the rest of his Southampton team-mates
United made their second substitution before half-time with Ander Herrera (second right) replacing McNair (second left) for tactical reasons
Van Persie and Rooney discuss tactics following their a reshuffle by Van Gaal in the first half
Is this the turning point for Van Persie? He was meant to be the perfect fit for Van Gaal – Holland’s manager and captain during the World Cup reunited at Old Trafford – but like Manchester United has been unconvincing this season. It is hard to say whether this is a moment of real significance. Van Persie hit a wonderful hat-trick for David Moyes against Olympiaos last season, but barely played after that and the manager was gone before he returned to the side.
Still, that is his sixth goal in 14 appearances for United this season, not the worst return, and Van Gaal’s team is finally finding ways to win. Liverpool visit on Sunday – the match Sir Alex Ferguson always regarded as the biggest of the season – and United have the forward momentum in that match-up now, make no mistake.
For Southampton, it gets no easier. Everton, Chelsea and Arsenal are all to come in quick succession, and in the last nine days they have dropped from second to fifth, West Ham United now stealing their thunder as underdogs among the Champions League elite. Koeman will be only too aware that Southampton’s defeats this season have all come against the biggest clubs – Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Manchester City, now Manchester United – and they will have to overcome that fear of heights in second half of the season, if it is not to drift towards anti-climax.
Manchester United fans, meanwhile, will dream of chasing down first City then Chelsea, just like the good old days. They will need to play better than this though. Good teams find a way to win when playing badly: but they don’t make a career out of it.
Southampton left-back Ryan Bertrand (left) battles for the ball against Juan Mata (right) during their Premier League clash
Rooney (centre) battles his way past Fonte (left) during United’s victory away at Southampton on Monday night
Rooney (second right) was also booked in the dying minutes of the match after a dispute with referee Kevin Friend
Source : Daily Mail