Saints’ strong spirit, Mancs misfire
22nd August 2021, St. Mary’s Stadium
Southampton 1-1 Manchester United
Manchester United’s first two games have demonstrated why they cannot be discounted as title challengers, and the reason why some people will discount them anyway. Their resounding victory over Leeds United on opening weekend highlighted how their attack is the most explosive in the Premier League.
But weekend 2 at Southampton reminded spectators of a fact made uncomfortably clear as recently as the Europa League Final in May; when United’s attack does not explode, it does very little else either. Only the future can tell whether the long-craved addition of Jadon Sancho to their attacking options will solve this inability to grind out victories when the attacking TNT fizzles out. But the signs here were unpromising. After a confident start, United fell into a sudden lull, surrendered the initiative, and promptly fell behind on the half-hour, when a smart shot from Che Adams was deflected past David de Gea off Fred.
Credit must go to Southampton, who showed enormous resolve here after subsiding so weakly at Everton on opening day. Their lead was against the overall balance-of-play, but not exactly unexpected.
United’s huffing and puffing for the rest of the first half began to resemble wheezing and spluttering, but they started the second with renewed urgency, and deservedly levelled when Mason Greenwood squeezed a shot under Alex McCarthy on 55 minutes.
If United fans were hoping that this would trigger another goalscoring orgy, they were disappointed, as Southampton made the best chance of the remaining time, with Adam Armstrong forcing a good save from de Gea. Even the introduction of Sancho in place of the maddeningly inconsistent Antony Martial did not provide the needed spark for the United gunpowder.
United, compared with early front-runners Chelsea and Liverpool, seem to lack something upstairs. Be it focus or urgency, they only produce the goods when it is ‘fun’. They must learn to relish the occasions where they need to roll up their sleeves and grind out wins, because this is the Premier League. There will simply be too many such occasions for United to win the title only on games that are ‘fun’.
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