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Southampton’s valiant display sees Manchester United stumble at Old Trafford

21 Oct

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They came, they saw, but they didn’t conquer. Well, for a Southampton side that flirted with relegation last season, a draw at Old Trafford would suffice. However, like last season, Mauricio Pochettino’s men may feel as if they underachieved.

Meanwhile, the pressure on David Moyes is at an all-time high, as the Red Devils are off to their worst start to a season in the Premier League era. Unlike last season, neither Robin Van Persie, nor Wayne Rooney could save Manchester United from mediocrity. Outscoring their opponents is no longer a genius tactic – their production in the final third is anonymous, the clinical finishing is a distant memory, while long-periods of possession was a rarity.

Although United didn’t play well, they had a few chances to put the match out of reach, but Artur Boruc and the crossbar denied Moyes’ men three points. Southampton – who’s improved significantly compared to last season – produced an impressive away performance combining excellent work-rate and movement between the lines. Morgan Schneiderlin stepped forward to press Marouane Fellaini, whereas Steven Davis and Victor Wanyama kept tabs on Michael Carrick  – and Wayne Rooney when he dropped deeper.

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Most teams don’t possess the pluck to press Carrick when he receives the ball, but if executed properly, it limits Carrick’s contribution to United’s attack. Meanwhile, Fellaini’s transfer still seems peculiar and superfluous, as his performances have been mediocre. The Belgian is sitting deep alongside Carrick, offering the same threat as his midfield partner – besides the penetrating passes between the lines – which prevents him from joining the attack.

With both midfielders nullified, and adequate pressure applied on the defenders, United struggled to dictate the tempo of the match. Schneiderlin continued to drive forward when possible, while Lallana and Davis roamed around the final third when in possession. In particular, Lallana drifted infield looking to play incisive passes in the final third, while Davis dropped deeper to help Southampton sustain possession and drive forward as a unit.

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Frankly, United were struggling to cope, and Pochettino knew his side was capable of earning a point at minimum. While, James Ward-Prowse, Rickie Lambert and Guly Do Prado were introduced to increase their attacking impetus, Moyes decided to preserve the lead by adding numbers in midfield and the backline, which was logical.

Regardless of the late Dejan Lovren equalizer, United couldn’t solve Boruc, and they didn’t assert their dominance on the match. “I am disappointed because we wanted to get a bit of momentum going and we weren’t able to do that,” Moyes said. Southampton produced an impressive away performance – one similar to the win at Anfield, and had Osvaldo been up for it, they might’ve walked away with all three points.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible for Moyes to avoid the critics after dropping points at home. Carrick, arguably United’s best player last season, was quick to highlight that luck hasn’t been on United side thus far. “It is frustrating because things are not going the way we want. But as players we have to stand up, take responsibility and get better,” Carrick said. “We are still confident. Everything is in place but for some reason, at the moment, we are not quite clicking and not quite firing,” he added.

The most concerning issue is United’s shape overall – the double-pivot sits too deep, while the three attacking players behind Van Persie have struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities. Adnan Janzuaj has been a refreshing inclusion to the squad, yet heavily relying on an 18-year-old winger is an indictment on the squad, opposed to the player.

If Saturday’s draw was any indicator to how the season will pan out, United will struggle to defeat the better Premier League teams this season. More so, majority of United’s title rivals, and mid-table Premier League sides have evolved over the transfer window, whereas United hasn’t, and Van Persie’s goals may not be enough to retain their Premier League crown.

Analysis

  • Arsenal remains two points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League, defeating Norwich City 4-1. A recurring theme in their play since Ozil’s arrival has been the urge to overload central areas. Likewise, with the inclusion of Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla behind Olivier Giroud, Norwich had no answer for Arsenal’s movement in the final third.

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While Norwich pressed Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, the movement of the front three always provided Wenger’s men with passing options, along with handing Wilshere the license to push forward – as runners got behind Giroud who dropped deeper to link play and provide wonderful assists for Ozil and Wilshere. Despite Norwich handing  Arsene Wenger’s men a few scares, their quality in the final third was disappointing.

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Aaron Ramsey – who started the match on the bench – came on for the injured Flamini and continued to impress. He made key tackles, scored a wonderful goal, and assisted Arsenal’s fourth goal, as the Gunners continue to shine.

  • Stamford Bridge was filled with controversy, as Eden Hazard’s equalizer should’ve been disallowed. Samuel Eto’o nicked the ball away from Cardiff goalkeeper Dave Marshall when he bounced it on the ground, which subsequently led to Hazard sliding the ball into the net from close range. According to FIFA rules, the goalie is still in possession of the ball when he bounces it, meaning Eto’o committed a foul that the referee missed. However, Cardiff dropped deep into their third and frustrated Chelsea to the point where Mourinho gambled and played three at the back – thus leading to a quality strike from Eto’o. Along with an entertaining Jose Mourinho dismissal, Cardiff caused Chelsea a few problems in the final 20 minutes, but Oscar and Hazard increased the lead, pushing the Blues to second in the table.
  • Manuel Pellegrini saw his men earn their first away win of the season at Upton Park, orchestrated by David Silva and Sergio Aguero. Aguero produced two fine finishes to give City a comfortable lead, and assisted Silva’s goal late in the second half. But the main man was Silva, he floated across the final third finding pockets of space to link play and build attacks, as he thoroughly controlled the match.

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Sam Allardyce attempted to replicate a shape that saw his side defeat Spurs at White Hart Lane, but his men left too many gaps of space around the final third for City attackers to drift into, and were blitzed for large portions of the match. Another away test awaits Manchester City next Sunday, as they travel to Stamford Bridge full of confidence, aiming to overtake Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.

  • Andros Townsend stole the headlines once again, as he was one of the few bright spots in Spurs’ victory at Villa Park. Villa maintained a high defensive- line in the first half, and focused on pressing Spurs’ fullbacks and two holding midfielders. Andre Villas-Boas’ men were unable to break through the press, as Villa’s fullbacks tightly marked their wingers and Roberto Soldado was isolated upfront. But Paul Lambert tinkered with his side at half-time – seeing as Townsend was fortunate to see his cross beat Brad Guzan to give Spurs the lead. The reason behind switching to a 4-3-1-2 was to get the most out of his attackers – who also didn’t see enough of the ball in the first half – but pushing them into central positions left the Villa fullbacks vulnerable against overloads.

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Townsend was at his very best after the change, driving down the right flank and his unpredictability left Antonio Luna confused, as he was unsure whether Townsend would cut in or attack the byline to produce a devastating ball into the box. Christian Benteke did enter the fray in the second half, giving Villa a lift with his aerial presence that Libor Kozak lacks – despite his height – but Soldado’s goal minutes later was the final blow for Lambert’s men.

  • Daniel Sturridge scored his 7th goal of the season to nick a point against 10-man Newcastle. It was mediocre display from Brendan Rodgers’ men, who allowed Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye to dictate the match – and witness the French midfielder score a great goal. Prior to Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s sending off – for pulling Suarez in the box, thus leading to a Gerrard spot-kick – Suarez and Sturridge were deprived service, as they were forced to drop deeper to get involved with the play. Nevertheless, tactical alterations were significant, as Alan Pardew encouraged his men to drop into a 4-4-1, sacrificing Moussa Sissoko for Paul Dummett, who gave Newcastle the lead in the second half. However, Liverpool switched to a 4-2-3-1 introducing Luis Alberto, who was instructed to drift infield, allowing Glen Johnson to push forward. The change gave Suarez more space to operate in, as he drifted into the channels and between the lines, and it reaped rewards as he assisted Sturridge’s equalizer. Liverpool searched for a winner by introducing Raheem Sterling and pushing Alberto in an advanced position in midfield, but Tim Krul made a few top saves in the latter stages of the match to earn his side a valuable point.

Results: Newcastle 2-2 Liverpool, Swansea City 4-0 Sunderland, Stoke City 0-0 West Brom, Arsenal 4-1 Norwich City, Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff City, Everton 2-1 Hull City, Manchester United 1-1 Southampton, West Ham 1-3 Manchester City, Aston Vila 0-2 Tottenham

Weekend Stats

  • Manchester United fail to win successive Premier League home matches for first time since 2007.
  • 16 points from seven ‪Premier League matches, is the most points that Arsenal have had at this stage of the season since 2007/08.
  • Daniel Sturridge has scored in six consecutive Premier League away matches. Only one player in Premier League history has more – Robin Van Persie in nine.
  • Liverpool is undefeated in their last 8 Premier League away matches for the first time since Apr–Oct 2008.
  • Robin van Persie needs 1 more goal to reach 127 in the Premier League. Would make him equal Hasselbaink’s Dutch record and join him in 10th all-time.
  • Steven Gerrard has scored his 100th ‪Premier League goal in his 449th appearance.

All stats are provided by Infostrada Sports @InfostradaLive

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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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