20/09/2015: Saints 2-3 Man United
Saints' disappointing start to the season continued at St Mary's with a 3-2 defeat to Manchester United. Ronald Koeman's side started incredibly brightly, only to completely fall apart after 30 minutes. The home side did threaten to mount a comeback during the last 10, but were thwarted by some inspired David de Gea saves.
Koeman deployed a diamond midfield to start with, with Victor Wanyama holding and Oriol Romeu playing further up through the middle. James Ward-Prowse was tucked in on the right, with Dusan Tadic playing slightly deeper than normal on the left. Saints attacked as a unit early on and at a great tempo. Tadic shot wide on 10 following great work by Graziano Pelle on the right-wing.
Man United looked very vulnerable at the back and Saints soon took advantage. Tadic fizzed in a dangerous cross which was put out by Marcos Rojo for a corner. Moments later Saints were ahead. Jose Fonte started the move with a good run forward. de Gea pushed out Mane's effort, following Ward-Prowse's cross. Pelle was there to follow up for 1-0 in the centre of the penalty area.
Saints could have easily stretched their lead immediately after the opener. Pelle brilliantly swivelled on the edge of the box before striking the post. Anthony Martial's wayward 18th minute effort summed up United's early play. Romeu dropped back to sit alongside Wanyama not long after Saints had taken the lead.
Ward-Prowse had another chance on 20; side footing at de Gea after Matt Targett had driven inside. Pelle had a couple more half-chances before United gradually gained control of the ball. The visitors passed the ball about patiently from deep. Saints sat off and were made to pay by 35. Juan Mata got away from Fonte before squaring the ball to Martial. He turned van Dijk before slotting low past Stekelenburg. United dominated the remainder of the half. Mata almost nipped in on 41.
United reasserted their dominance as the second-half kicked off. They were ahead on 50. In what was almost a complete replica of Robin van Persie's opening goal at the same end in the same fixture last season, Martial hooked on to Maya Yoshida's slack back-pass before calmly finishing.
Saints had a great chance from a corner on 59. Fonte forced a brilliant save from de Gea at his near post. Apart from that it was all United. The away side passed the ball among themselves for what seemed like forever. Saints struggled to get near them. That early intensity had long since deserted Koeman's men. Mata made it 3-1 on 68 following a sustained spell of United possession. Memphis Depay had initially struck the inside of the post, with the Spaniard scoring on the follow-up.
Out of nowhere Saints got themselves back in it on 86. Mane crossed on the right before Pelle got up to head the ball into the corner of the net. Saints rallied during the final few minutes and had a couple of chances to level the scoring. The best came from Wanyama in stoppage time. His rasping shot from outside the area looked to be heading into the top corner only for de Gea to claw it away.
Saints were awful for almost an hour of the game, but very easily could have got something from it by the end. The way we started and finished the game proved that there is talent in the team, but it's just not clicking often enough so far this season. Koeman has lurched from one tactical plan to another over the last few weeks. It's difficult to work out what he wants from his team. Going forward there were plenty of positives. Pelle looked excellent and Mane was pretty good too. Defensively we've regressed massively however. There were individual errors galore, and it's been a long time since Saints had such little control of the midfield.
Stekelenburg: 5. No glaring errors, but didn't exactly make himself big either
Yoshida: 5. Got the better of his man on some occasions, but unfortunately made one crucial and costly error
Fonte: 5. Distribution a little lax at times, and hardly the most commanding in the tackle either
van Dijk: 5. Looked assured in the early going, but easily turned for the first United goal and looked shaky throughout the second-half
Targett: 6. Probably his best showing of the season. Showed confidence going forward. Shame he had to go off injured at half-time
Wanyama: 6. An improvement on his West Brom showing. Put himself about in the first-half, but as with many other players, less influential as the game went on
Ward-Prowse: 6. Very bright early on. Put in some good crosses and bright in and around the penalty area, but gradually drifted out of the game
Romeu: 6. Helped start a few attacks with some quick passing
Tadic: 6. Gave Darmian the run-around in the first-half, but pretty much anonymous after first half-hour or so
Mane: 7. Only shone in spells, but did have a role in both goals
Pelle: 8. Saints' best player this so far this season. A constant danger in the penalty area. Even delivered a couple of pin-point crosses
Martina: 5. Offered very little at either end of the pitch
S Davis: 6. Helped Saints maintain the ball slightly better towards the end of the game
Long: Not involved too much
Saints: Pelle (36, 86)
Man United: Martial (34, 50) Mata (68)
Attendance: 31,588 (3,164 Man United fans)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Saints line-up: Stekelenburg, Yoshida, Fonte, van Dijk, Targett (Martina 46), Wanyama, Ward-Prowse (Long 76), Romeu (S Davis 56), Tadic, Mane, Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Cedric, Juanmi, Rodriguez
Man United line-up: de Gea, Darmian (Valencia 46), Smalling, Blind, Rojo (McNair 69), Carrick (Schweinsteiger 60), Schneiderlin, Mata, Rooney, Depay, Martial
Subs not used: Romero, Fellaini, Herrera, Young