23/01/2016: Man United 0-1 Saints

Saints picked up their third consecutive win with a dogged display against Manchester United. Ronald Koeman played it perfectly, keeping the team extremely compact in defence. United struggled to find a way through, and although Saints were slightly cautious going forward, they did look the team most likely to nick it in the 2nd half, and in the end that's what happened.

Saints lined-up very conservatively. Victor Wanyama and Jordy Clasie operated as the double pivot, rarely advancing too far beyond the back three. Full-backs Cedric and Matt Targett weren't quite as adventurous as they had been in previous outings either. The front three pressed really well early on, with Saints enjoying some good spells of possession during the first 10 minutes. United saw more of the ball after the opening 15 minutes, but only really threatened from distance. Daley Blind shot straight at Fraser Forster from distance, while Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial had efforts go well wide. There was no real flow to the game, and several long stoppages with Wanyama and Clasie receiving treatment for injuries.

On 24 Cedric had a speculative effort fly over the bar. Wayne Rooney shot well wide after Saints had squandered an opportunity to counter. The visitors had a lot of possession in United's half just before the interval, but Shane Long, Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic invariably found themselves outnumbered close to goal. Wanyama had a good chance on 32 when he nodded over from a free-kick. Mane couldn't quite connect with the ball after being played through by Tadic on 37. Just before half-time Jesse Lingard missed a chance for United.

United showed a bit more intensity going forward at the start of the 2nd half following the introduction of Juan Mata, but still struggled to create clear cut chances. Mane made a brilliant run down the right on 57, but his cross to Long was cut-out. Wanyama nodded wide of the far post just after the hour from Saints' second consecutive corner.

The visitors looked more confident going forward during the final 20 minutes of the game, although they still didn't create much from open play. On 79 Long headed over from James Ward-Prowse's free-kick. Then on 87 minutes it happened. Ward-Prowse's free-kick near the corner on the right was floated to the centre of the penalty area. Debutant Charlie Austin checked his run before heading into the far post. Oriol Romeu had a chance to grab a second in stoppage time, forcing a save from David de Gea, following a good counter. Then right before full-time Adnan Januzaj hammered the ball wide for United.

Back in September United beat Saints by adopting a patient possession game and waiting for their opponents to make a mistake or hit them on the counter. The way Koeman set up his team on this occasion made that close to impossible. Saints were disciplined and compact throughout. The back three and the two in front stayed very rigid, meaning there were always bodies back ready to cover for any slight errors. It was obvious United didn't have the flair to break the visitors down. Naturally, Saints' reluctance to commit men forward was always going to make it difficult at the attacking end of the pitch, but there's always a chance you can pinch a goal at a set piece, and that's what happened. After three months of mostly disappointing football, Koeman has found a coherent system which brings out the best in the team. Saints have momentum now and the squad suddenly looks blessed with options following the signing of Austin. Let's see what the next few months will bring.

Player Ratings

Forster: 7. Made a few fairly routine saves, but once again the presence he brings to the rest of the team can't be underestimated

Cedric: 6. Offered reasonable support going forward, but a bit lax at the back

van Dijk: 8. Took a no-nonsense approach to the game. Didn't let much get past him

Fonte: 8. A few really classy moments on the ball. Played his way out of trouble a couple of times, and some strong tackles

Bertrand: 8. Looked assured throughout. Made several clean tackles

Targett: 6. A bit tentative going forward, didn't really test his opposite number enough. Fine defensively

Wanyama: 8. Offered constant protection to the back four, with some constant trademark tackles

Clasie: 8. Cut off the United supply from midfield and also showed a decent range of passing

Tadic: 6. Pressed well early on, but mostly ineffective on the ball

Mane: 6. Worked hard, but unable to navigate past United's defence too often

Long: 7. Showed his strength in the air, and harried to good effect

Substitutes

Romeu: 7. Picked up exactly where Clasie had left off

Ward-Prowse: 7. Set up the goal, and provided a bit more energy for Saints late on

Austin: A great cameo. Had a real presence about him, and displayed plenty of energy and strength in the air


Match Details

Saints: Austin (87)

Attendance: 75,408

Referee: Mike Jones

Man United line-up: de Gea, Darmian (McNair 60), Smalling, Blind, Lingard, Schneiderlin, Fellaini (Mata 46), Borthwick-Jackson (Januzaj 86), Herrera, Rooney, Martial

Subs not used: Romero, Varela, Depay, Pereira

Saints line-up: Forster, Cedric, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand, Targett, Wanyama, Clasie (Romeu 67), Tadic (Ward-Prowse 67), Mane (Austin 79), Long

Subs not used: Stekelenburg, Martina, Yoshida, Juanmi, Pelle