Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Southampton 2-3 Manchester United: Four things to say as Devils overturn Saints

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Manchester United came back from two goals down to beat Southampton at St Mary’s on Sunday afternoon in the 10th round of the 2020/21 Premier League season. Goals from Jan Bednarek and James Ward-Prowse had the home team up at halftime, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team eventually took all the points back to Manchester, courtesy of Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani (twice).

Southampton game plan works up to a point

It’s fair to say that the lead the Saints had in their hands at the break was well deserved. Ralph Hasenhuttl obviously gave out the right instructions to his charges – Oriol Romeu and Ward-Prowse did very well to stifle the attacking input of Fernandes and Donny van de Beek. Apart from one mistake which goalkeeper Alex McCarthy made up for with a brilliant double save to deny Mason Greenwood from 20 yards and Fernandes point-blank, the visitors had no real chances to put the ball into the back of the net.

Going forward, Southampton mostly threatened through quick and direct passing, trying to find Che Adams upfront or to utilize the pace of Theo Walcott in behind, and it’s fair to say that they always looked more likely to score than to concede. Moussa Djenepo also looked very lively and dangerous taking on opponents on the left flank. They ended up scoring from two fantastically taken set-pieces – both the work of Ward-Prowse. In the 23rd minute, his sharp corner to the near post caught the United defence napping and Bednarek was quick to capitalize with a clever run and a flick of the head. Ten minutes later, the midfielder let fly from a free-kick from just over 20 yards, perfectly bending the shot into the top corner to beat David De Gea.

Henderson’s brief chance

De Gea appeared to have hit his knee on the post while trying to save Ward-Prowse’s shot, requiring treatment before the game continued. He played on for the rest of the half but was replaced at the break by Dean Henderson. The 23-year-old spent 2019/20 on loan at Sheffield United and his fine performances for the Blades earned him a recall to the parent club for this term, but he remains firmly behind De Gea in the pecking order at Old Trafford.

Henderson’s performance on Sunday was quite decent, but with the home side dropping back to try and protect the lead and his teammates taking full control of the game, there weren’t any real situations for him to show his quality. What’s more, Solskjaer has already expressed hope that De Gea would be back in time for United’s Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday, so if Henderson had any hopes of using this opportunity to stake a claim for the spot between the posts, they probably didn’t last long and it remains to be seen how long he will be willing to act as the backup option.

Enter Cavani

Going into the second half, it seemed there was nothing United could do to climb out of the hole they had found themselves in, but Solskjaer had one, rather obvious, trick up his sleeve.

Having lost his place in the team at Paris Saint-Germain, Edinson Cavani left the French capital as a free agent and joined United close to the end of the summer transfer window. He is yet to start a Premier League match, having been included in the starting XI by Solskjaer only once in the Champions League.

In this match, he replaced the inefficient Greenwood at half time and the visitors sprang to life. The 33-year-old’s impact was huge as he first set Fernandes up in the 59th minute, then banged one in himself in the 74th, before pouncing on a cross by Marcus Rashford to win the game for United three minutes into the stoppage time.

The Red Devils have therefore booked another three points, and that after they had probably thought them gone beyond recall, and Solskjaer will have been thoroughly pleased with the team’s ability to fight to the final whistle. They are now in eighth place with 16 points, five behind league leaders Tottenham Hotspur and second-place Liverpool, but with a game in hand on both of them.

Post-game trouble

Cavani probably would have given Solskjaer every reason to start putting him in the lineup from minute one from this point on, had it not been for a most unwise thing he did after the game.

The experienced 118-time Uruguay international allegedly replied to a follower on Instagram, who congratulated him on a fine performance, with the words “gracias negrito!”. It is apparently the same word used by Livepool’s Luis Suarez who thus addressed Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in 2011, which resulted in an eight-match ban for Cavani’s international teammate at the time.

The FA Rule E3, which covers players’ activity on social media, says that “if a comment is deemed to include a reference to a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race or nationality, then that will be regarded as a potential aggravating factor in any punishment”. The FA are currently investigating the incident and should they feel the need to take action, they will ask Cavani for explanation within a few days. If found guilty, the striker will be punished with a ban of a minimum of three matches, forcing Solskjaer not to count on his contribution for a while. That would, in turn, provide Greenwood or any other player the manager might decide to use in those matches with an opportunity to stake a fresh claim to the spot.

Cavani’s comment doesn’t seem to have contained any real racial prejudice, but the former Napoli and PSG man will hopefully avoid such language in the future, via social media or otherwise.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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