Analysis and Observations: Fergie makes up for his meddling
Southampton 1-2 Manchester United: Observations
Manchester United were hardly at their scintillating best at St Mary’s in this rather contained affair, but then again they hardly have to be to end victorious. There’s a running theme through United’s season where they don’t need to play particularly good to win a game, they just don’t need to play bad either. Southampton were valiant, and had controlled the game for a good hour or so, but United finally got a grasp on the game when United shuffled around and made changes; not just in personnel but in shape, too.
United’s diamond had no shine. Sir Alex held his hands up for United’s ineffective showing telling MUTV after the game: “Sometimes we make it difficult for ourselves but, in fairness, I maybe meddled with the system somewhat this afternoon.” And, in truth, United really did make it difficult for themselves. Their system hardly allowed any room for creativity – Gibson and Anderson took turns to drift left and Michael Owen dropped uncharacteristically deep. Heck, at times, Gabriel Obertan played in that second striker role. While some (wrongly) dubbed him the ‘New Thierry Henry’ before he joined the club in 2009, he is much accustomed to the wide role and that showed in the second half where, in a standard 4-4-2, he made the assist for the Owen goal on the right hand side.
Fergie continued and admitted his trial with the diamond formation hardly paid dividends: “We tried a diamond in the middle of the pitch and, of course, Manchester United are used to playing with width all the time and I think that was a problem for us. It wasn’t working at all. We had some possession of the ball but we never really threatened.”
Selection was fine, to an extent. United’s selection hardly surprised anyone. It didn’t – it had all the usual suspects of the rotation system; Darron Gibson (who played badly but cut him some slack), Chris Smalling etc and even a debut for Anders Lindegaard. But Southampton have the qualities of a top Championship side (should have been promoted last season, if not for a handicap of being docked 10 points) rather than that of a team in the third tier of English football and so they certainly sensed a chance to actually win the game. United have incredible strength in depth, but as shown from the defeat against West Ham that wholesale changes aren’t necessarily the answer.
Southampton, led by Ricky Lambert, Chamberlain and goalscorer Chaplow, proved to be a stern test. But when Fergie made changes, inevitably United improved. On came Ryan Giggs and Nani, off went the lacklustre Gibson and Anderson. United settled and started to dominate, and soon they took charge; Owen headed home in the 65th minute and Hernandez, collecting a Giggs pass, sealed it ten minutes later. Sir Alex did make up for his meddling, thankfully, with those changes.
Jonny Evans and Wes Brown impress. “Eh? You serious.” I am. In fact, this has hardly been a season to savour for the Irishman or, indeed, Brown. One of them has been crippled by injuries and the other a prolonged run of bad form. But Evans was solid and assured for 90 minutes (like he was in the 3rd round against Liverpool) and Brown, coming on as a second half sub, got used to surroundings. It may be the start of something better for those two…