As the clock ticked towards stoppage time with United staring their 2nd defeat in three starts dead in the eyes, our cutting edge blunted by Southampton’s energy, I couldn’t help but be a little alarmed.
‘Six points adrift after three games. Ouch’, I thought. The margain for error suddenly looked very slim. We have started the season in much the same way we finished the last: bereft of ideas and penetration against Everton mirrored the away defeat at Wigan, whilst we managed to escape a close call at home to Fulham, with 30 minutes of scintillating football before half time just enough to win the day in the face of a spirited finale from the visitors. Our defence has been unsettled, and our confidence was rocking under the pressure of playing catch up with just under five hours of Premier League action in the books.
Up stepped Robin van Persie, after an initial miscue of course. A 24 million pound get out of jail free card.
Satisfied with the result? Sure. Happy with the performance? No. Not really, no.
Lindegaard – 5/10
Replacing the man who has made the most saves in the league across its first two matchdays, Lindegaard was the beneficiary of a misunderstanding between David De Gea and Nemanja Vidic against Fulham. I remain to be unconvinced by the Dane, who seems to get undue credit for being ‘cool’ and ‘unflappable’ when there is mounting evidence to suggest the opposite. Didn’t have a whole lot to do but pick the ball out of the back of his net and, in fairness, both goals were the result of circumstances beyond his control. Made a nice save at his near post midway through the second half, although replays suggest the ball was probably going wide. A spectator for the most part, and a nervy one at that.
Rafael - 7/10
The young Brazilian has started the season in superb form. His omission at Everton might’ve been an oversight in hindsight, condemnation of a lack of confidence in our already under strength back 4 and Rafael’s somewhat impetuous past. So far we’ve seen him show a tremendous willingness and capacity to do damage up and down our right hand side, whilst still observing his defensive duties and controlling his flank. I’ve said it before, but his appetite for the contest is what makes him such a good player. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight and all that. Worked well with Valencia again and provided the cross that lead to van Persie’s equalizer. I’ve loved his start to the season.
Ferdinand – 5.5/10
Called in after missing our first two matches, it was a surprise to see Rio on the teamsheet when the word all week was that Evans would be partnering Vidic. What we got was a reputable, if a little underdone pairing of two big names a little down on touch. The speed is gone, we know that, but at least we glimpsed the more willing, ball playing Rio of years gone by. When we needed to push on he wasn’t wasting any time, striding confidently and purposefully from defence with his head up looking for an outlet, and his intent was plain for all to see as he ran forward to provide the ‘assist’ for van Persie’s second. Fact was Southampton had a lot of joy in attack, far more than I care for or am willing to concede. Rio was up against it all day and battled to keep an up for it Saints attack at bay.
Vidic – 4/10
I’m officially on the verge of worry (note how I just step back from the precipice of overreaction). He’s three top flight games back from a knee reconstruction, an injury we see enough of here in Australia to know you don’t just come back from bigger and better than ever. Maybe its respect, maybe its ego, but I think Nemanja needs a few weeks in the reserves to get his touch, anticipation and rhythm back. Who knows, if not for a paucity of options in defence maybe he would’ve spent a few games down at Moss Lane. He seems clumsier than usual, without his trademark cunning and cynicism. He also seems slighter and less imposing. I’m confident he’ll return to somewhere near his best, but perhaps it time we let him do that at a pace more suitable to his current condition and form. Pacey outfits just run towards him, knowing they’ll either skip past or be clattered, whilst his timing in the air is still slightly out of whack. Come back, Nemanja. We need you.
Evra – 6/10
Evra has started the season in topsy turvy fashion, with a battling display at Everton undermined by an awkward effort at home to Fulham now punctuated by a decent effort against the Saints. He’s making it awfully hard to either criticize or praise, that’s for sure. The slip that lead to the second goal notwithstanding (we benefitted similarly, so the area must’ve been a bit tricky) the Frenchman was sound and solid, executing a handful of important and timely interventions. People will remember the slip, which will cast unfair criticism on his game.
Carrick – 6/10
Not his best effort, but certainly more effective than he had been during his stint moonlighting as a central defender. He couldn’t quite establish a foothold when Southampton were on the move and was nothing more than an able contributor when we were on the ball. Lacked incision and urgency, opting to be more patient and cautious than when at his efficient best. His strength isn’t in being a destroyer or setting off on surging runs, but keeping possession and managing our time on the ball, something he couldn’t do to the best of his ability. We must remember that this is his first foray into midfield this season, so perhaps he was a little rusty.
Cleverley – 5/10
I’ve plenty of time for Cleverley and know that with all his time out of the game it’s going to take time before he finds a consistent groove. He had plenty of energy and endeavor, but just couldn’t impose on the contest with smart interplay and quick movement on and off the ball. Rio Ferdinand has lauded the connection he has with Welbeck, with the two having played plenty of football side-by-side, but despite a few teases and flashes the pair couldn’t find that cutting edge they’ll need to link midfield with attack to justify their continual selection.
Valencia – 7.5/10
Tony V, how we love thee. He is the only one of our wingers not crippled by the fear and self doubt when in possession; the only one willing and prepared to take on his man to the byline. What makes it even better is that everyone in the stadium, nay the world, who is watching knows what he’s going to do. Was again a consistent and persistent threat on the right that kept working and plugging away up and down the pitch. The beauty of Valencia is how little the difference is between his best and his worst. Even when down a bit, like he was with the rest of the team after the restart, he continues to graft and grind away, always causing problems. Was another good outing for our new number seven.
Kagawa – 6/10
He’d been peerless in his opening two matches, scooping the top step of the podium on each occasion. Sadly for us St. Mary’s was spared his ingenuity and guile, with the Japanese starting brightly before slowly drifting out of the game. The spark against Everton and Fulham, the fulcrum of every good move we strung together, he was indicative of a wider, more encompassing malaise against Southampton. He sparingly imposed his wonderful, creative brand of football on the game, not through lack of trying. An early sighter that whistled just wide was the highlight of a serviceable performance. He’s a victim of his own high standards after just two games. It’s not a bad thing.
Welbeck - 5/10
Danny Welbeck is a good player. He’s skilled and composed and can hold his own physically with the meanest and biggest of defenders. Problem is he’s that awkward kind of striker: he who doesn’t really score. His role isn’t just about goals, I know, but at this point in time he’s doing little to support the argument he’s ahead of Rooney in the pecking order. Playing with his back to goal and often forced to double back, he needs more of a killer instinct. Put it this way, I’d not turn to Danny Welbeck if we desperately needed a goal. The stats for his senior appearance read as one goal every four games, with twelve in forty appearances last term. His game was a nothing outing, really. Competed and got stuck in, but couldn’t really affect the contest. Sometimes there are those days, especially for a forward, where hard work and 100% effort comes to naught. This was one of those days.
Robin van Persie – 9/10
The Dutchman had a pretty up and down day, didn’t he? There was the ecstasy of his early strike and a looming sense of infamy following his ill-fated Andrea Pirlo impression. All was forgiven shortly after, however. His control and finish for the first was every bit as clever, classy and clinical as the equalizer against Fulham, with the spirit of Messrs. Van Nistlerooy and Solskjaer channeled for his Johnny-on-the spot conversion of Rio’s rebounded header. Finally, the glancing header that won the day recalled Keano at the Stadio del Alpi all those years ago; he flashed across the pack as the only man that was ever going to meet it. Before you could quite register what had happened he had found the back of the net and was wheeling away, having capped the most remarkable and fortunate of great escapes. One must only look at the nature of his goals to divine how immediate and important his impact has been: 3 equalizers and and 1 winner comprise his 4 strikes for the club. He’s been a bargain.
Scholes – 4/5
The match winner declared him the man of the match, whilst the boss echoed his star striker’s claim. Van Persie’s commendable humility aside, the legend wasn’t quite as decisive as his three-goal striker, but only fractionally less vital to the outcome. Scholes might’ve been marginally more wayward than we know and expect of him on one or two occasions, but his calm and probing tempo meant when we needed to dictate the play to get back into the game and, eventually, snatch the result we had the ball. Cameos like this are evidence of his worth to the cause.
Nani – 3/5
What a difference a rollicking, a point to prove and few weeks stewing make. Deployed late on to create and trouble, he finally beat the first man with a cross (incredible, I thought I’d never see the day after the Everton game), placing the ball on a salmon-like Robin van Persie’s melon as he rose from a sea of bodies to nod home. Encouragingly His attitude, like Rooney’s last week, was first rate. Still seems to stand up on the ball a bit too often given his ability and aptitude, which can sometimes slow the play down and sap us of our drive.
Hernandez – 3/5
Threatening and/or lively is a good appraisal of his efforts, I quite liked his work ethic and application when he came on. He really is a nuisance to defenses with his speed and on the trigger runs in behind and showed better close control and awareness when in possession. His teammates seem more comfortable playing the ball to feet, with him picking up the ball in advanced positions and distributing on a few occasions during his short time on the pitch. He almost added further insult to a truly undeserving Southampton outfit with an intelligent run into the box to meet a square ball from Valencia. Unfortunately, but somewhat fairly, the Southampton rearguard got in the way and got the ball into touch.
Robin van Persie – 3
Paul Scholes – 2
Antonio Valencia – 1
Leaderboard after Matchday 3
Kagawa – 6
Valencia – 3
Scholes – 3
Van Persie – 3
De Gea – 2
Anderson – 1