A turning point
For the first time in seven attempts Manchester United have finally won four games in a row for the second time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
United won eight in a row under the Norwegian when he first took caretaker charge but since then their failure to string results together had been a constant issue for Solskjaer.
Six times since then they’ve won three in a row in all competitions without going on to extend that winning run inside 90 minutes, with the FA Cup success at Norwich requiring extra-time after a distinctly average performance.
But Solskjaer has been insistent recently that his side are going places and this victory could well mark a turning point. Not only does it hint at discovering some momentum but it also came with a dollop of resilience, something that’s been lacking recently.
United let their heads drop after conceding the first goal and paid for it by going into the break 2-0 down. But they held firm after the break and dominated the second half. That kind of win can be a game changer when it comes to the mentality of a side and Solskjaer may well come to look back on this afternoon at St Mary’s as a turning point.
Diamonds aren’t forever
With Anthony Martial falling ill overnight we’ll never know what side Solskjaer was initially planning on fielding at Southampton.
With Martial absent it was a diamond for United, a set-up that allows for Donny van de Beek and Bruno Fernandes to be in the same team without compromising on the protection offered to the back four.
Had Martial been fit would he have been in for Mason Greenwood in a 4-4-2, or would it have been the usual 4-3-3? If the latter would Solskjaer have trusted Van de Beek and Fred in the two deepest roles in a tricky Premier League game, or would it have been Matic back in?
We’ll find out soon enough what Solskjaer’s thoughts are but it does feel like he’s still trying to find the ideal solution to get his best players into midfield without exposing the defence.
The diamond worked well against RB Leipzig, although it needed a late flourish of goals and there was a spell in the second half when United were on the back foot, but it badly backfired against Arsenal and in the first half at Southampton it didn’t work well either.
Solskjaer switched it at half-time, moving to more of a 4-2-3-1, and United looked much better for it. The era of the diamond should be over.
With only three substitutions available it was a brave move from Solskjaer to make two changes at the break, albeit one was enforced, but the decision paid off handsomely.
His naivety in the biggest job of his career is highlighted regularly so he deserves credit when he gets it right and this was a spectacular example of that.
Solskjaer wasted no time in making a change up front, bringing on Edinson Cavani to lead the attack and give it a focal point. Greenwood and Rashford had played too wide, but Cavani was influential through the middle and Solskjaer’s substitution changed the game.
Spotlight on De Gea
This season had been one of renewal for David de Gea until last week, with the Spaniard looking close to his best as he rose to the challenge of Dean Henderson.
But being beaten by two free-kicks from a similar angle against Istanbul Basaksehir and Southampton have put the spotlight back on the 30-year-old, especially as Henderson could now get his chance after coming on at half-time on Sunday.
De Gea was probably more culpable for the goal in midweek than Ward-Prowse’s free-kick on Sunday, although in the Sky Sports studio Roy Keane was still insistent he wouldn’t want his goalkeeper to be beaten from there.
Sometimes a corner is so well delivered that there is very little you can do stop it and there was certainly a degree of that with Southampton’s opener.
James Ward-Prowse’s delivery was absolutely perfect for the near post run of Jan Bednarek and he had a simple task to glance it into the back of the net.
The only element United might look at themselves at is the marking from those set-pieces. Bednarek took up a starting position near De Gea but Marcus Rashford was the closest player to him. When the centre back was always going to be an obvious target from a corner it made little sense for a forward to be trying to pick him up.
As soon as Bednarek made his first move he had the run on Rashford and with Ward-Prowse unfailingly accurate from set-pieces, that was all it took.