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magnus-henderson
22nd August 2016

United Player Ratings: Manchester United vs Southampton

Zlatlan brace and 8’s all over as Manchester United took on Southampton for their first home game of the season.

The Saints travelled to Old Trafford in unfortunate circumstances. Manchester United prepared to celebrate competitive home debuts for Mourinho, Bailly, Ibrahimović, Mkhitaryan and, let’s not forget, Paul Pogba. This, combined with being the first Friday night game of the season, meant that the atmosphere at Old Trafford was electric. Expectations have ramped up from Champions League qualification under Van Gaal to Premier League champions, and rightly so. Much was made of Mourinho’s home record in the build-up, with only nine home losses in his career, but after the debacle at Chelsea last season, the Portuguese manager had much to prove.

Mourinho took many by surprise by starting Pogba. In his press conference on Thursday, Mourinho stated that Pogba would play ‘some minutes’ against Southampton; he ended up playing all of them. The inclusion of Pogba overshadowed a few other interesting starting choices; the decision to maintain the Bailly-Blind partnership when Smalling had regained his fitness, the dropping of Herrera for Pogba and not Fellaini and the ongoing ‘love fest’ Mourinho is giving Mata over Mkhitaryan on the right-wing. While all questionable, they are all understandable decisions: Bailly and Blind have been excellent, Herrera’s adventurous nature may have left the defence too open to attacks and Mata played well last weekend. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

United started the game slow, happy to concede possession to Southampton who pressed high up the pitch and out-passed United in the opening 15 minutes. The style of football the Saints brought was Van Gaal-esque, although, unlike the Dutchman’s philosophy, Southampton actually carved open their opposition. The Old Trafford faithful, however, were noticeably louder than usual, as Mourinho had asked them to be, and sang the Reds back into the game. The Swedish hero, who cost United zero, has become talismanic in only three competitive games. Winning a fantastic header to open the scoring in the first half and tucking home a penalty in the second killed Southampton’s confidence, and United defended resolutely to close out the game and keep their first clean sheet of the campaign.

 

Player Ratings (10 = best, 1 = worst… like most ratings)

De Gea: 6

Virtually had nothing to do. Made one save, which does not really count as a save if it is a daisy-cutter at five mph. Not much else to say really…

 

Valencia: 7

Industrious as ever. Made Targett the busiest player on the pitch with his marauding runs down the touchline. The Ecuadorian looks like a different player under Mourinho, with his newfound confidence going forward and his brilliant defensive composure on the ball. Darmian may struggle to get back into the first team any time soon.

 

Bailly: 8

Another very impressive performance from the young defender. Domineering in the air and very good positioning to cut out any crosses which made it past the fullbacks. Was uncharacteristically pushed off the ball by Shane Long in the 77th minute but made up for it with his grit and determination.

 

Blind: 6

A quiet night for the Dutchman but not in a good sense. Was caught flat-footed early on by clever movement from Tadić and Redmond but was not punished for it. Passed the ball out of defence calmly but probably did not do enough to keep his spot from Smalling who is edging closer to match fitness after an injury setback.

 

Shaw: 7

Much more active than against Bournemouth last weekend, getting up into the opposition’s final third and combining with Pogba and Martial well. Won a very debatable penalty with a surge into the box. Defended diligently and dealt surprisingly well with long balls, winning all of his aerial battles.

 

Fellaini: 8

I am finding it seriously hard to believe that blonde Fellaini is the same Fellaini who has been playing for United over the last three seasons. He dominated the midfield defensively, winning four aerials and two tackles, which gave license for Pogba to push higher up the pitch. Passed the ball calmly and another no show for the infamous Belgian’s elbows. Like Valencia, Fellaini looks like his confidence has been reinstalled by Mourinho and the United fans may need to rethink their cynicism.

 

Pogba: 8

The Frenchman’s second Old Trafford debut is not one United fans will forget. After a rocky first 15 minutes, Pogba grew into the game immeasurably. By the 42nd minute, he was storming past midfielders and dinking beautiful passes in to Ibrahimović and Mata. In the second half the record signing got even better. A flurry of bursts forward from deep caused the Southampton midfield to crumble. With twice as many dribbles as anyone else on the pitch (8), the most shots (4) and the most interceptions (5), Pogba looked as worth £89 million as anyone could.

 

Mata: 7

Another effective performance from Mourinho’s new pal. Drifted inside to allow Valencia room to impress and combined well with Ibrahimović and Pogba in the final third. Put in a good shift defensively too, seen tracking back and winning a very important tackle in the 57th minute to quell Southampton’s threat.

 

Rooney: 6

Put in a brilliant cross for Zlatan to nod home before the break, but was back to his usual waning self. Lost possession continuously in the first half and passed the ball poorly. The United skipper has lost a yard of pace and some technical ability with that, most notably his close control. The conundrum with Rooney is that, although he has looked past his peak for a fair few years now, the Englishman can still pull brilliance out of the bag, as seen with his assist to open the scoring. It seems only a matter of time until Mkhitaryan dislodges the United and England captain’s starting place.

 

Martial: 6

Another poor night for Martial’s quality. Failed to get involved enough in the first half, despite stinging the hands of Forster with a long ranged effort. Did not complete any take-ons and missed two very presentable opportunities in the second half to seal the victory. With Rashford sitting on the bench, Mourinho may think about giving the young Englishman an opportunity on the left flank if Martial’s performances do not improve in the near future.

 

Ibrahimović: 8

The Swede’s United career has taken off in the same fashion that his PSG career landed. Four goals in three competitive matches is not a bad return for a 34-year-old. Showed great aerial presence for the first goal and a cool head to tuck away the second from the penalty spot. Gave away a sloppy pass in a dangerous area in the second half but defended diligently when he was called upon in the dying moments of the game.

 

Subs

Mkhitaryan: 7

Looked impressive with quick passing and a few eye-catching dribbles. The Armenian winger’s special awareness is impressive, seemly subconsciously finding himself in very useful spots, something that his skipper could learn a few things from. Will be integrated into the starting eleven in the coming weeks.

 

Herrera: N/A

Whilst only on the pitch for ten minutes, Herrera still managed to add dynamism to United’s midfield and two tackles when they were needed most. Looks like a much more complete midfielder under Mourinho’s tutelage.

 

Smalling: N/A

Was not on the pitch long enough to make an impact. Will see more game time now that he has returned from injury.


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