AFTER Manchester United moved up to second in the Premier League by beating Southampton 3-2 on Sunday, Adam Higgins picked out three things we learnt about the Red Devils at St Mary’s.
Luke Shaw will be a big miss on the sidelines
The England left-back’s first match on the treatment table since tragically breaking his leg in Eindhoven on Tuesday night saw him miss out on a return to his former club alongside fellow ex-Saint Morgan Schneiderlin.
It prompted Louis van Gaal to switch his starting Premier League defence for the first time this season with Marcos Rojo – just as he did in the Champions League in midweek as a substitute – replacing him.
But the back four as a whole endured another unsteady afternoon – as it did against Swansea on their last road trip in the league – with Daley Blind in particular looking uncomfortable up against the tricky specimen of Graziano Pelle, who won too many aerial duels from crosses and rolled the Dutchman on a couple of occasions.
As Shaw watched on from home, he may well be wondering how his team can cope without him for a lengthy period, with Blind and Rojo expected to occupy his opposition between them for the next few months after Tyler Blackett was loaned to Scottish Premiership champions Celtic.
Anthony Martial can be the real deal
After bursting onto the scene with that memorable debut goal as a substitute against Liverpool last weekend, the 19-year-old was handed his first Premier League start at St Mary’s.
Although he wasn’t the technical match-winner with Juan Mata’s goal at the end of a brilliant 44-pass move proving decisive, the Frenchman was the real difference and underlined what a special talent he is and might become with a two-goal salvo that altered United’s fortunes dramatically in a topsy-turvy encounter.
Even after barely touching the ball during the half-hour that Southampton dominated, Martial changed the complexion with a skilful turn inside the box to deceive Virgil van Dijk and finished with aplomb past the exposed Maarten Stekelenburg.
Described colloquially afterwards as ‘a cold fish’ by ex-United captain Gary Neville, he then slipped away from the Saints defence to punish Maya Yoshida’s carelessness with the kind of predatory instincts that van Gaal clearly thought he would be when splashing out an initial £36 million on deadline day.
With three goals from three shots on target thus far, Martial has a 100% strike rate, a goal every game ratio and hasn’t put a foot wrong yet as he continues to take the top-flight by storm – and indeed surprise.
— Dan Cox (@DannoCox) September 20, 2015
David de Gea is still the man to beat
In a tight contest that could easily have gone either way on the balance of play, fine margins often determine the outcome – and the Spaniard illustrated why Real Madrid relentlessly pursued him to no avail all summer long with some vital saves at crucial times.
De Gea berated his defence for a lack of organisation as Southampton bossed from the outset but, ironically, he was employed more often in the second period when United had greater control and was rightly considered among the man of the match contenders.
His flying stop to claw out Jose Fonte’s near-post header will undoubtedly be included in the save of the season montage, and he had to be equally alert to palm away Victor Wanyama’s late effort as the hosts rallied in search of an equaliser after Pelle’s header restored hope.
Although he has now gone eight Premier League games without a clean sheet, the 25-year-old showed he is fighting for the United cause again and has put the failed transfer negotiations with Madrid behind him.
It was another shining example of what we saw so often last term from United’s player of the year in the last two seasons and Premier League strikers can again quake in their boots at the prospect of beating him.
Buzzing @D_DeGea stayed a red! Best keeper in the world for me ?
— Andrew Cole (@vancole9) September 20, 2015
— UtdLens (@UtdLens) September 20, 2015