Things we learned from United's win at Southampton
Bruno Fernandes’s stunning volley led Manchester United to a 1-0 victory over Southampton on Saturday.
The Reds built on Monday' fantastic win against Liverpool to rack up our first away win of the Premier League season - and a first competitive victory away from home since Erik ten Hag took charge in the summer.
It was a testing game at St. Mary’s, one in which Ten Hag will have learnt a lot about his squad, as United fought all the way until the end for the three points.
You can see why Ten Hag wanted to snap Christian Eriksen up so badly in this transfer window. The Danish midfielder has settled in nicely at United and put on an excellent display of passing against Saints, particularly in the first half when there wasn’t much time to move.
The hosts were incredibly combative and maintained their shape with discipline in the middle, but Eriksen’s ability to float into pockets of space gave United a vital escape from pressure.
He also showed real desire to bomb forward and aid the attack. Jadon Sancho was largely frustrated on the left wing, often surrounded by three players when he gained possession, but Eriksen helped recycle the ball by making himself available.
The playmaker also had an excellent opportunity to score in the first-half, but he was halted by a stunning defensive sequence from Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side, which saw opportunities for Fernandes, Anthony Elanga and Eriksen blocked on the 19-minute mark.
Fernandes’s lethal winner sealed the win, in what was his second consecutive match wearing the captain's armband. However, a lot of his best work was incredibly subtle, setting the tone for the win.
Bruno’s ability to link passing moves together brought the likes of Sancho and Marcus Rashford into the game when they would have otherwise been completely isolated. He popped the ball about, hassled the opposition’s defence and always seemed to be in a position to impact play, summed up by a smart headed flick to set Rashford away in the second-half.
While Bruno’s goal will rightfully gain the plaudits, Ten Hag will be mightily pleased to see the midfielder step up to block dangerous crosses and to cut out possession on the edge of United’s box. A tremendous performance, and what a goal!
There was a 15-minute spell just after half-time where our manager’s intelligence changed the course of the game. Elanga suddenly began to move centrally from his position on the right wing, creating space for his team-mates to burst beyond him and into the box.
Elanga’s fleet-footedness was only halted by an excellently timed Armel Bella-Kotchap tackle moments before Fernandes’s goal. The Swede launched himself clear of the Saints defence and would have been confident of slotting home if he wasn’t stopped in his tracks.
He wasn’t deterred though. Another Elanga run inside set the goal in motion by freeing up space for Dalot, Sancho and Bruno in one fell swoop. Saints couldn’t deal with the sheer numbers in the box as Fernandes was left wide open on the edge for his magic moment.
Ten Hag’s style relies on his full-backs having boundless energy to support attacks and to provide cover at the back. Both Tyrell Malacia and Diogo Dalot had that in abundance today.
Malacia’s determination and grit has defined his early United career. The 23-year-old’s crunching tackle down the wing gave him an early boost of confidence and he never looked back. His calmness on the ball and ability to pick a simple pass also aided us in some tight positions as Southampton overloaded the flanks.
Similarly, Dalot’s concentration eliminated a number of dangerous situations. The Saints intermittently played long balls on the angle, looking for the runner behind Dalot’s position. The Portuguese right-back stayed composed, recovered possession and offered a physical presence throughout.
Dalot’s pinpoint assist proved to be match-winning for United at a key point of the game. Equally as vital was a late block off the line to keep the score in our favour as the home side piled numbers forward.
United’s new signing only entered the pitch with 10 minutes to go, and he was absolutely everywhere! The Brazilian sat just in front of the defence, putting his body on the line with no hesitation as Saints probed for an equaliser.
With just a few minutes remaining, Casemiro darted to Dalot’s position, winning the ball back and playing the Reds out of trouble with a slick pass to Fernandes.
Perhaps most impressively of all, he audibly dictated when his teammates needed to tighten up through the centre. This kind of leadership is a huge asset for Ten Hag, who can be confident the former Real Madrid midfielder is already settling in as an influential personality at the club.