By Harry Ogilvie
- Sergio Romero saves first-half penalty
- Axel Tuanzebe starts third consecutive Premier League game
After disappointing results against both North London clubs away from home. Manchester United travelled to the South-Coast to face Southampton and as expected it was another weakened side they fielded.
Southampton have been a side United have faced twice already this season with both games being far more significant than the game tonight.
The first time was home debuts for the likes of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the second being the EFL Cup final which seen United win their first major trophy of the season.
Mourinho played Axel Tuanzebe from the start for the third consecutive Premier League game, this time he played alongside Marouane Fellaini in holding midfield.
The side also featured a centre back duo referred to as the “chuckle brothers” by United fans on social media, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. United’s attacking threat would come from Mkhitaryan, Rooney, Mata and Martial.
Mourinho’s side was fairly weakened due to resting players for the upcoming Europa League final and of course, a few serious injuries. The most notable absence was Paul Pogba, he was missing due to the passing of his father.
I would like to take this opportunity to pass on our condolences to Paul Pogba and his family at this hard time.
Romero Saves Penalty But Was It A Penalty?
It was a poor first-half with little happening apart from the ridiculous awarding of a penalty for a Southampton when Eric Bailly handled the ball outside the box.
However, Mike Dean gave the penalty and thankfully for Mourinho’s men, it was saved superbly by Sergio Romero. Romero being the ‘keeper the media and United fans believed to be starting in the Europa League Final against Ajax in Stockholm on 24th May.
United Struggle To Test Forster
The best opportunity of the first-half apart from the penalty was when Eric Bailly broke through the Southampton defence and unleashed a shot from 12 yards which was well saved by English shot stopper, Fraser Forster.
Another notable opportunity fell to Anthony Martial who put the ball just wide of the post after working hard to find the space to curl a shot towards goal.
There was very little to shout about in the first-half with very few chances created for either side. But this did not stop the United away fans singing their hearts out even if it didn’t mean anything.
The fact the best opportunity of the half fell to a centre back who was playing right back spoke volumes about the lack of entertainment in the first half.
The second-half started with both sides hoping to break the deadlock and bring some smiles to their fans faces. However, this was not to be, neither side really asserted their authority on the game with even less clear cut chances than the first half.
Rooney looked creative and tried to set up Mata with a neat lay off but the Spaniard could not direct the ball on target and ended up putting it over the bar.
It was evident in both the first half and the second half that the players, managers and most fans on social media minds were elsewhere with the Europa League final fast approaching.
Could Romero Replace De Gea As No.1 Next Season?
The performance of the night came from Sergio Romero who saved a penalty and prevented Southampton from scoring several times. His best save was when he denied James Ward Prowse a goal after he leapt across the six yard box to tip his curling effort wide of the post.
The Argentine goalkeeper looks like he is going to be the man between the sticks for United in the Europa League final with Mourinho confirming in his press conference earlier in the week that this was highly likely.
This has led many reds to believe David De Gea has played his last game for the club with speculation and rumours about a possible move to Real Madrid appearing all over social media and in several tabloids.
United fans are growing increasingly concerned that they could be about to lose their number one goalkeeper who is arguably, the best goalkeeper in the world.
Despite not being particularly breathtaking this season, he has still been very very solid and reliable for United in the net this season and he will undoubtedly get better and better with more experience and (hopefully) Champions League football for United next season.
The ex-Atletico goalkeeper has been part of several impressive United sides and has created so many memories for United fans.
The best memories include his penalty save in United’s FA Cup semi final against Everton, his save from Juan Mata’s free kick against Chelsea and his amazing stop against tonight’s opponent, Southampton which seen him claw the ball out of the goal before it could cross the line.
The Manager’s View
The boss said “the team wasn’t perfect but individually they gave me good things. They showed me they want to be an option for the final.” This shows Mourinho was clearly pleased with individuals performance but not so much with the collective performance.
He continued on to discuss the game on Sunday against Crystal Palace saying “Sunday is going to be a big day for the kids because a lot of them are going to play.” This clearly shows he intends on playing the younger players on Sunday to rest up his first team players for the final on the following Wednesday.
Mourinho also discussed the extent of Fellaini’s injury saying “Fellaini, on top of his experience, he says it’s not a tear,” and “On top of his experience, he says it was a minimal thing but minimal can be a big thing. Let’s wait for tomorrow but he needed to play.”
The Portuguese also dropped some big hints regarding his starting line-up for the Europa League final.
He reflected on potential partners for Blind saying “If Eric Bailly is not playing in the final, who plays the final? Smalling or Jones? It is these kind of questions that I have to answer.” This shows it is a clear competition between Smalling and Jones to replace Bailly in the match that will define United’s season.
This game meant nothing for United or their league position after Mourinho publicly admitted to now prioritising the Europa League after another home draw against Swansea.
However, the game obviously was still a big deal to the players and the gaffer as he will still be choosing his starting team. This made the match like an audition to all the players who are still hoping to make the cut.
It was a lacklustre and dull game with a poor United performance to top it off but this was expected from United fans around the world as they knew the situation regarding saving key players for the most important fixture of United’s season.
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