Man United were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw against Southampton at the Old Trafford on Sunday. The Red Devils took an early lead courtesy of a well-worked goal from Jadon Sancho. However, a poor second half from the hosts allowed Che Adams to find an equaliser for the Saints.
The result marks United’s second consecutive draw in the Premier League and third in the last five league games. Ralf Rangnick’s men sit 6th on the table, a point behind 4th placed West Ham United. Here is how the game unfolded:
The German manager reinstituted Cristiano Ronaldo to the starting line-up at the expense of Edinson Cavani. Southampton manager Ralph Hassenhuttl set up in a 4-4-2 formation. He made no changes from the side that beat Tottenham 3-2 on Wednesday last week.
Both teams had a similar approach to the game: to press the opposition higher up and force mistakes. Man United aimed to press in a 4-4-2 shape while Southampton countered in a 4-2-2-2 set-up to maximize utilization of the space between the lines.
Che Adams and Armando Broja occupied the United centre-backs. Similar to the Burnley game, United offered the Saints too much space between the lines. Hassenhuttl played his wingers in a slightly narrow position to take advantage of such space.
Deeper in their own half, the Red Devils shifted to a 4-5-1 shape. They aimed to restrict the visitors to one wing, and then regain possession. However, the Saints were able to utilise the switch well. Oriol Romeu often found himself with time and space to pick out a runner on the far side.
Southampton also used interesting combination plays down the wing. Full-backs Perraud and Walker-Peters could often move more central. This compressed United’s midfield but forced Shaw and Dalot wider. United’s full-backs were solid in defence and did not allow the visitors to take advantage of 1v1 situations.
The hosts’ first line of pressure was not that active when Bruno Fernandes dropped into the midfield. A large part of their pressing actions was concentrated in the middle of the park. Southampton centre-backs, Salisu in particular, often drove forward to provide an additional body in the midfield.
Higher up the field, the Saints failed to translate possession into chances. Adams and Broja often made questionable decisions in the final third. This also helped the Red Devils transition to attacks quickly after regaining the ball.
Southampton pressed Man United in a 4-1-3-2 shape. They tried to force the hosts into the wider areas, and then force errors. United played with narrow full-backs and wingers high and wide.
United were able to counter the press with two solutions:
1. Using the Switch: Centre-backs Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire often drew the opposition forwards to one flank and then switched play to the other side where the Saints had fewer defenders.
2. Flexible Interiors: Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes had a lot of freedom in movement. The duo often positioned themselves in close proximity to the ball and looked for forward passes continuously. Pogba, in particular, was in imperious form. The Frenchman continuously evaded pressure and sprayed passes forward to create threatening attacks.
Scott McTominay was often caught in the cover shadow of Southampton forwards. However, the Red Devils found success in building down the wings and often dragged the opposition full-backs too high. The wings became a dangerous outlet in possession for the hosts. A well-worked move down the left should have resulted in a goal, but Perraud cleared Ronaldo’s finish off the line.
Ralph Hassenhuttl countered the threat by changing his formation. Oriol Romeu was dropped back into a centre-back role. This created a 5-back shape, allowing Salisu and Bednarek to cover the wings more effectively.
The change backfired. United were able to find more options in the middle of the park. Pogba and Fernandes were able to receive possession in space, and pick out Sancho and Rashford running behind the defence. Southampton played a disastrous combination of a high defensive line, but not active enough to force Manchester United into hasty decisions.
The goal for the Red Devils came from such a situation. Fernandes found space behind the lines to pick out a smart run for Rashford. The Englishman had the composure to pick out Jadon Sancho for a simple finish.
The rest of the first half saw the visitors hold possession. The Saints had acres of space available between the lines but failed to take proper advantage of it. While United did a poor job in covering spaces between the lines, they were solid at blocking access to such spaces. The hosts also had a goal for Paul Pogba ruled out as Ronaldo was caught offside in the build-up.
At half-time, the Red Devils were playing okay, but there was certainly room for improvement. The Saints looked threatening but lacked the bite to translate such moments into real danger.
Che Adams scored with the first shot of the second half, equalising for the Saints. The goal had many of the exact same issues that allowed Burnley an equaliser a few days ago.
Southampton seized the initiative and looked to attack. They strung together promising attacks but failed to apply the finishing touches. United regained control of the game after around 10 minutes, and Harry Maguire tested Forster at the other end.
The second half of the Man United vs Southampton game became more end-to-end. Both teams were unable to maintain the same intensity of the first half. Furthermore, the outfield became more slippery due to a continuous downpour.
Man United continued to find space in the wide areas to attack, but Southampton countered this much more effectively due to a simple realisation. In the first half, Hassenhuttl sacrificed a midfielder to push his centre-backs wider. However, Cristiano Ronaldo kept dropping deeper when the Red Devils had possession. The 9-role was often left unoccupied allowing Southampton to cover width without sacrificing depth. Even when Ronaldo played higher up, his movement off the ball seemed particularly poor.
Oriol Romeu in particular had a fantastic game. The La Masia graduate was a rock defensively, and effective in evading pressure on the ball. The Spaniard affected 2 tackles, 4 interceptions and 9 recoveries. Romeu helped to nullify several United attacks in the second half. The 30-year-old justified Hassenhuttl’s decision to play him back in the midfield.
Man United accessed the wide areas, but Sancho and Rashford did not find much success against the Southampton full-backs. The Red Devils attempted 12 crosses but none were successful. Rangnick had got his tactics on point throughout the first half. However, the German manager made calamitous substitutions in the second period of the game.
With around 15 minutes left, Rangnick introduced Anthony Elanga. A tiring Rashford and ineffective Ronaldo were left on the field, and Scott McTominay was sacrificed. The substitution came at a stage when the game was still delicately poised and could go either way. This meant United’s best players, Pogba and Bruno had to play much deeper, to stop the Saints from counter-attacking. Both Bruno’s mastery in the attacking third and Pogba’s ability to retain possession and attract pressure were now being wasted. The Red Devils desperately tried to locate Dalot and Sancho out wide to create promising attacks.
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However, Southampton looked very comfortable defending crosses, and Man United posed little-to-no threat in the final 15 minutes. Set-pieces became the primary source of chance creation for Rangnick’s men. Ronaldo had a goal ruled out for offside, apart from which the hosts failed to generate anything of real quality.
The final whistle brought another dashing blow to United’s quickly diminishing top-4 aspirations. More than two points being dropped, the lack of innovation from a host of key players, and the same errors from previous games reoccurring would frustrate fans. Another day, same old story.
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