Robin van Persie loves playing Southampton. Tonight was Van Persie’s best performance of the season without a shadow of a doubt.
The Dutchman’s first goal was calmness personified as he slotted home a cool finish between the legs of Fraser Forster and his hold up play over the 90 minutes was equally as impressive. He was getting about the pitch, creating pockets of space and staying active.
If his first was a good goal, Van Persie’s second was great. His deft volley off a pin-point Rooney free-kick was delectable and delightful.
In a season where he has been worryingly happy to dwell in the shadows, Van Persie firmly took centre stage tonight.
Where was the philosophy in the first half? Manchester United’s defence looked drunk, midfield looked lethargic and attack was non-existent thanks to getting no service.
Chris Smalling‘s injury was the catalyst. Paddy McNair was hooked off by Louis van Gaal after a poor performance but the 19-year-old was not the only defender who couldn’t defend. Jonny Evans was clearly finding his feet and struggling while Marcos Rojo looked out of sorts. It says a lot that Ashley Young was United’s best defender in the first half.
Is that the end of the 5-3-2? Away to Arsenal and Southampton, Van Gaal has opted for the 5-3-2 formation and on both occasions it forced United to soak up the pressure. An inspired performance from David de Gea kept Arsenal at bay at the Emirates but tonight against Southampton, United looked like a pub team all over and were fortunate to go into the half level at 1-1.
Without Angel di Maria to lead the counter-attack, United weren’t direct enough in the transition between defence and attack which allowed Southampton to take it easy.
The fact Van Gaal didn’t wait and changed to a 4-4-2 diamond before half-time by bringing Ander Herrera indicates even the Dutchman didn’t fully believe it was right to play 5-3-2 in the first place.
Marouane Fellaini lost his momentum. The Belgian midfielder found a new lease of life under Van Gaal following his first goal in a United shirt when he scored against West Brom but tonight against Southampton, he looked more like the 2013/14 Fellaini who struggled so much under David Moyes.
Pedestrian in and out of possession, Fellaini allowed Victor Wanyama to get the better of him far too often. It’s a real shame given how well Fellaini has played in recent weeks but tonight he lost his mojo.
Couldn’t have said it better myself…
#MUFC, again, resembling a high functioning alcoholic: swathes of largely incoherent stumbling, with 10 mins of breathtaking clarity
— Daniel Dawkins (@DanDawkins) December 8, 2014
Five wins in a row ahead of Liverpool. As is always the case, results are remembered ahead of performances and that’s certainly a good thing from tonight.
By hook or by crook, United came away with three points from St. Mary’s tonight. Having switched to a 4-4-2 they were able to actually begin playing football and a second half turnaround inspired by Van Persie gave United a dirty victory.
Heading into the big derby against Liverpool this weekend, United are in their best form since the Sir Alex Ferguson era.