by Ahmad Khan
Manchester United fans burst into another negative frenzy after Southampton’s late equaliser at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Our Goal Singapore Chief Editor Bhas Kunju, whose beloved Newcastle had held Liverpool earlier in the night, commented: “Sounds of an empire crumbling emanating from Old Trafford.”
Hold your horses, Bhas and all you other critics. Your judgment is still a little premature.
For now at least.
United looked to be heading towards a comfortable victory after Robin Van Persie’s first-half strike, but a defensive mix-up from a corner in the 89th minute gave the Saints a late dramatic equaliser and United were unable to recover from the setback.
The day couldn’t have started any better for United after news broke that teenage sensation Adnan Januzaj had signed a new five-year contract tying him to the club until 2018. Seeing his name on the starting lineup alongside Nani on either flanks, coupled with Van Persie recovering in time to start the game, it looked like a mouthwatering first eleven for United on paper.
Furthermore, Southampton have only taken one point from 14 Premier League visits to Old Trafford.
So it is understandable that the draw can be considered a little bit of an upset, especially after United led for an hour.
But a point is by no means the worst result for the reigning champions.
Southampton have been in excellent form and came into the game full of confidence after a string of impressive performances this season. The Saints had not conceded in five games and have the meanest defensive record in the Premier League so far. They have let in only two goals in the entire season prior to Saturday’s game.
Their 1-0 defeat of Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the season was as impressive a result as ever, considering Liverpool also started the campaign in exhilarating fashion.
Granted, the result will be the main take away from the game, but it is easy to overlook plenty of positives from United as well.
United had plenty of chances to bury the game, with Januzaj coming close, while Rooney and Van Persie were both denied by the post. On another day, the home side would have been comfortable winners.
Southampton did dominate towards the end of the game, but United seemed to cope well with all the pressure, and many would have thought they would see out the game comfortably.
However, in the end, it was a defensive lapse that cost them, and too often this season, they have paid the price for poor defending.
Yes, United are still way below the level we expect them to play week in, week out. But Southampton are going through a fine patch at the moment and should rightly be given credit for doing so.
Mauricio Pochettino has got his side to play tidy and effective football, and if they can consistently conjure results such as these, there is no reason why they will not be battling for a place in Europe. Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham would likely struggle to play against the Saints too, just like Liverpool and United had.
By and large the Red Devils were the better team, but Saints dug deep and exploited a momentary lapse in defense.