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Saints & Begorrah!

 Posted by on December 13, 2014 at 7:42 am  England, EPL, Manchester United, Southampton
Dec 132014

Southampton 1-2 Manchester United
79599373 vanpersie reuters 1 Saints & Begorrah!A fifth win in a row for Manchester United. Despite being flat throughout and often sort of disinterested, United managed to nevertheless pull off a very cheeky win away at Southampton. As for the Saints, what can you say? Having owned the ball for at least 65 % of the game and played often lovely, easy-on-the eye football, their bark is far more intimidating than their non-existent bite.

Almost hilariously bad at the back throughout, they are horribly brittle in comparison to both Manchester City and Chelsea. Luckily, we live one match at a time and there’s never been a better time to face Liverpool than now when they’ll be licking their wounds after being given the heave-ho out of the ECC by Basel.

It all went wrong for the Saints early. In the midst of wiping the floor with the Red Devils every which way, even without the injured Morgan Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld, they made a terrible error as Wayne Rooney was dispossessed and the ball flew past a wrong-footed Nathaniel Clyne for Fonte to collect only for Robin van Persie to anticipate the Portuguese’s back-pass. Van Persie’s finish slipped through Fraser Forster and in to the net before Maya Yoshida could push the slow moving ball off the line, gifting United with a stunning early lead. Yet seconds later, the football Gods reared up forcing Chris Smalling to leave the field with an accidental.

Marouane Fellaini may not be the most graceful of performers, but he is not usually susceptible to the kind of schoolboy mistake he hurt his team with here. A horrible soft squared pass meant for Valencia died on the turf and arrived at the feet of Steven Davis. Way past his pomp as a Rangers player, Davis showed he still has something he can give the game as he built up to a sprint while charging through the middle. A neatly executed pass located Shane Long and his lob found Dusan Tadic who turned a floundering Paddy McNair inside-out before setting up a completely unmarked Graziano Pellè, who blasted an equalizer past a diving David De Gea the loose ball in the 31st minute.

Minutes later, never one to dawdle with an hour still to go, manager Louis Van Gaal pulled the visibly shellshocked McNair off the field after he tapped the ball onto the toe of an equally shocked Shane Long. Indeed, Long was so so gobsmacked at the gift that he botched the shot off his laces. That saw Michael Carrick yanked off the bench and plugged into the back line next to an equally stuttering Marcus Rojo. The move turned out to be quite controversial on the blogs after the game, but, at that moment it seemed like a mercy killing. Had Van Gaal not done the cruel deed, I don’t think Manchester United would have been celebrating their victory afterwards.

79606295 vanpersie reuters Saints & Begorrah!

For the second half, Van Gaal executed some crucial calibrations. With the back line reinforced, if not exactly solidified by the presence of Carrick in between Evans and Rojo, the two other first half square pegs had been Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young. Young—a speedy winger bereft of the ability to make a cross—had his career salvaged by David Moyes a season ago when we converted into a sort of wing-back.
Completely overmatched by Nathaniel Clyne in both the grey matter and speed stakes in the first half, Young clearly caught a flea in his ear from Van Gaal. Instead of trying to dominate Clyne, Young simply followed him around at a distance and started biting repeatedly at his heels. By the end of the match Clyne was knackered.

Before this game, Fellaini has been a hard-running warrior for four victories in a row and made few errors. He has a tendency coached into him to always execute the simplest choice of pass, however, and Koeman had his midfield drilled for that. With Rooney often hanging back to give the big Belgian a target, the Saints midfield were allowed to forage around less and less in the second half. And again, with Southampton’s hard-running midfield slowly wearing down in the second half, attrition always sets in.

When United actually nicked the winner in the 71st minute, it was yet another case of callow carelessness. Just as flat as in the first half, United kept plodding away. When Fonté committed an unnecessary foul on Young by the left touchline, Wayne Rooney’s beautifully curved free kick spun over a pack of static Southampton defenders into the six-yard box and cleverly toe-poked home from close-range by Van Persie. Leaving Robin Van Persie alone is like abandoning Count Dracula in a dorm full of virgin schoolgirls. It was beautifully taken, to be sure, but the result of a grievous, terrible error.

It’s better to be lucky than ugly, they say. Better yet, to be lucky and ugly! Saints and Begorrah: Phew!
79599724 vanpersie reuters Saints & Begorrah!

Ivor Irwin

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