Manchester United 2 Southampton 2
In the race for a Champions League berth Manchester United faltered at Old Trafford on Monday night as 20-year-old Ireland international Michael Obafemi’s late equaliser grabbed a late draw and kept the home side in fifth.
Until then United had been in third, their highest position since opening the weekend yet as Leicester are United’s final day opponent, a top-four finish – at least – remains in their own control. The draw made it an 18th game without defeat: United’s best run for seven years. Obafemi’s late strike, however, put the brakes on their Champions League charge for now.
They had not been beaten since January and were unchanged for a fifth consecutive league game for the first time in 27 years – which meant David de Gea made his 400th appearance for the club. Saints had lost one of their five post-lockdown league outings as Ralph Hasenhüttl retained the same XI from the draw at Everton last Thursday.
The opening half was topsy-turvy. De Gea's first contribution was a heavy pass to Harry Maguire and Saints had a throw-in. This was indicative of a sluggish United whose opposition was far sharper, as when Ryan Bertrand lost Mason Greenwood and fired in a low cross left that De Gea had to cut out.
This was a warning: the visitors were here to play and when James Ward-Prowse tried to find Bertrand running behind Greenwood, only an errant pass killed the move.
Ward-Prowse was to about to mis-control and give Anthony Martial a clear run at Alex McCarthy. When the striker unloaded the visiting goalkeeper spread himself and saved his captain from a bout of self-recrimination.
Paul Pogba was not so lucky. When De Gea found the midfielder in front of his area a dawdle allowed Danny Ings to pickpocket him. From there Redmond took over, dropped the ball on to Stuart Armstrong's toes and he smashed home. This had Pogba shaking his head and, moments later, Armstrong was in again: this time Victor Lindelöf had to make a near goalline clearance.
United were rattled but showed how dangerous they can be. Luke Shaw received from Martial and pinged in a ball to Marcus Rashford that split the defence. He finished but was adjudged offside.
Pogba was caught again: this time his slumber was spied by Che Adams, Southampton broke and the Frenchman was lucky not to be punished once more. Surely stung by this, Pogba's next involvement was to initiate United's equaliser.
A fiercely hit cross was superbly controlled by Martial near Southampton's penalty spot. As Jack Stephens took him down Martial slickly laid off to Rashford and he did not miss for his 21st goal of the season.
Momentum drove United on to a close to instant second. Pogba – rejuvenated now – stroked possession left to Bruno Fernandes and he recycled to Martial.
What followed next was supreme. The centre forward turned on the pace, burst inside, then hammered his laces through the ball for a shot that gave McCarthy no chance. It was his 21st goal, too. Pogba’s redemption was close to complete when a low 20-yard effort appeared to beat McCarthy before the goalkeeper scrambled it away.
The half closed with Oriol Romeu leaving a nasty ankle on Greenwood, Rashford just failing to find Fernandes, and Lindelof’s weak clearing header requiring him to clean up the error.
Greenwood was fine to play on following the break: VAR had ruled no clear and obvious foul though it was a puzzle what pictures were being viewed at Stockley Park.
At this juncture United were in third but had work to do as the sense was Southampton were still more than keen to find an equaliser. Ward-Prowse bundled over Nemanja Matic in a signal of intent before Ings had a shot blocked by Maguire who came together with Armstrong: Saints wanted a penalty but Chris Kavanagh was not interested.
The tempestuous character of the contest was soon evident again. Stephens levelled Rashford and this time Kavanagh did see the foul and booked the defender. Southampton’s niggle-factor went up a notch when Kyle Walker-Peters handled a through ball and also saw yellow – doing so after Rashford left fly.
This had become a test of whether United had the backbone to see off a side who were in their face. Perhaps this prompted Ole Gunnar Solskjær to shout: "Hey Bruno, come on," to urge his talisman Fernandes on. He also withdrew Pogba for Fred in the hope of adding energy in the closing moments.
If Shaw hobbling off was an unhappy sight for United, De Gea’s flying save from Redmond heartened.
A head clash between Brandon Williams and Walker-Peters forced off the former and as Solskjær had used his three slots for substitutions Matic moved into defence for the now 10-man United. – Guardian