De-ja-vu struck again for United as they were held to a 1-1 draw by 10-man Southampton at the St Mary’s. Daniel James had given United the lead after 10 minutes, before a barrage of pressure after half time resulted in Jannik Vestergaard heading home an equaliser on 58 minutes. Kevin Danso saw red after 72 minutes, but Southampton held out for the final 18 minutes to earn a credible draw, and leave Solksjaer with only one win in their first four outings this season.
Southampton Manchester United
Nathan Redmond missed out for Southampton after an injury sustained against Fulham in midweek and was replaced by Sofiane Boufal, whilst Cedric Soares replaced Yan Valery from the win at Brighton.
Defeat against Crystal Palace coupled with injuries forced Solksjaer into a handful of changes. Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial’s injuries saw them replaced by Ashley Young and Andreas Pereira, whilst Juan Mata came in for the struggling Jesse Lingard, as Marcus Rashford was pushed into a central striker role and Dan James switched to the opposite flank.
In the first half for Manchester United, it was the tactical set up of the attacking front three, as well as the role of Aaron Wan-Bissaka that stood out. The choice to play Andreas Pereira on the right flank created a lot of space against a narrow Southampton defence for Wan-Bissaka to make the most of. Pereira would often look to drift inside and link the play with Mata and Rashford in the middle, which resulted in plenty of space for Wan-Bissaka to move into. Southampton’s full backs were expected to give the width to their attacks (shown by the influence maps below), and given Danso’s high position on the pitch throughout the game, it led to a lot of space for Wan-Bissaka and a torrid afternoon for the Southampton full back.
Manchester United Influence Map: Southampton Influence Map:
The link between Wan-Bissaka and Pereira is also shown below by their respective heat maps from the match. Wan-Bissaka put in an excellent shift on the right side, racking up 100 touches throughout the game, whilst Pereira’s narrower role than what James had played in previous games created this space. Solksjaer’s decision to play Pereira on the right will have been influenced by the injury to Luke Shaw, who had been asked to do what Wan-Bissaka did against Southampton in previous matches. Ashley Young subsequently had a more restrained role, with James expected to offer the width and attacking threat on the left.
Aaron Wan Bissaka Heat Map Andreas Pereira Heat Map
Given how much influence he was expected to have on the game going forward, Wan-Bissaka’s defensive performance was particularly impressive, dealing very well with tricky Southampton winger Sofiane Boufal. As shown below, he completed 10/12 tackles in the match (the highest of any player on the pitch), often in dangerous areas around his own box. He was also able to demonstrate his ability on the ball going forward, completing the most amount of successful take-ons in the match (3/4).
Juan Mata also played a very important role for United, afforded a free role in behind Rashford. He made the most of this, drifting to both flanks and linking the play, and it was once his influence dropped that Southampton were able to get back into the game. By giving Mata the free role, similar to what Lingard had in previous games, it made him harder to track for midfielders Oriol Romeu and Hojbjerg. If one of the midfielders moved wider to mark him, it would leave an extra man in midfield (either Pogba or McTominay), and this allowed United to dictate possession for large periods of the first half.
Juan Mata Heat Map:
United looked to exploit the narrow Southampton set up throughout the game through the use of high full backs and Mata, and their opening goal showed how effective this was. The goal came from a 2v1 situation on the right side, with Mata’s movement to the flank creating the space for James to cut inside and score.
Wary of his pace and the run outside, Cedric backed off for too long, whilst Bednarek didn’t step up time. Afforded too much space, James finished well to give United the lead.
A similar scenario followed later on in the first half, when Wan-Bissaka fired over having found himself on the end of a McTominay cross. The freedom afforded to United’s attacking midfielders allowed Pereira to drift inside (by the referee), whilst Wan-Bissaka and Mata created an overload on the back post (off picture).
Although a tough scoring chance, it showed promise to United’s attacking threat, and how they had looked to target the narrow Southampton set up through wide overloads and giving freedom to their attacking midfielders.
However, Southampton started the second half the much better side, and this was down to them stopping the supply from United’s midfield up to Mata, James and Rashford. It was Oriol Romeu who stood out for Southampton in particular in the second half, impressing with his defensive work, as well as being able to utilise the ball well, linking up with Hojbjerg, who’s creativity was key to Southampton getting back into the game. Completing the most passes (43) on the Southampton side, Hojbjerg was also influential in the final third, completing the most final third passes of anyone on the pitch (15). The combination of Romeu’s defensive work and Hojbjerg being able to get on the ball to create allowed Southampton back into the game, as the United attack were frustrate going forward.
McTominay in particular struggled for United, only completed three passes in the time between half time and the Southampton goal, and given he was the link between the midfield and Mata/James, United subsequently struggled to create any attacks going forward in this time. Romeu’s influence on the midfield was a strong factor in this, and shown below is how impressive he was defensively, making 11 ball recoveries (highest for Southampton), as well as 6 tackles. Key is where on the pitch me made these tackles and recoveries, as he was able to make them high enough on the pitch to stop United breaking through at the Southampton defence.
However, after the Southampton equaliser, United looked to regain control in the game, and Solksjaer opted to bring Lingard and Matic on for Mata and Pereira, allowing Pogba to move forward into a more attacking role. This coincided with Danso being sent off a few minutes later, and led to Southampton sitting very deep and holding out for a draw. As a result, Southampton opted to defend very narrow and allow United a lot of space out wide, feeling comfortable enough to deal with their crosses.
Southampton Player Influence (Post Red Card):
Manchester United Player Influence (Post Red Card):
As a result, United attempted 12 crosses in the final 18 minutes, but were only able to complete two, with Vestergaard and Bednarek impressing defensively. Worryingly, there was a lack of creativity in the middle, and their best chances came mostly from long range.
The image below shows just how narrow Southampton had opted to defend, and why United opted to rely upon crosses, despite not having a focal aerial target in the middle.
Solksjaer bemoaned his side’s wastefulness after the game, and they really should’ve put the game to bed in the first half when on top. Managing 21 shots, they finished the game with an xG of 1.75 to Southampton’s 0.85, showing that they had realistically done enough to win the game.
xG Map (Southampton 0.85 – 1.75 Manchester United)
Next up for Manchester United is a home game against Leicester City, and they will need to be much more clinical if they are to pick up their second win of the season. Southampton will be confident of building on this performance ahead of their away trip to Sheffield United in a fortnight, and the balance of the midfield is beginning to take shape, particularly with Romeu and Hojbjerg impressing in the middle.
Written by @blandc_1996