Late Romelu Lukaku Goal Steals Crucial Win for Manchester United vs. Southampton

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2019

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton FC at Old Trafford on March 02, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Manchester United went above Arsenal into fourth place in the Premier League after beating Southampton 3-2 at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Romelu Lukaku scored twice, including netting the winner two minutes from time, while Andreas Pereira also scored for the Red Devils, who took advantage of the Gunners dropping two points in a 1-1 draw against north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the day.

Southampton had gone in front thanks to a wonder strike from Yan Valery midway through the first half. Pereira equalised just after half-time, and Lukaku gave United the lead after 59 minutes. 

A stunning free-kick from James Ward-Prowse made it 2-2 with 15 minutes to go, but United went back in front with Lukaku's curling effort on the 88th minute. 

It should have been even better for United, but Paul Pogba saw a penalty saved by Angus Gunn deep into stoppage time after Stuart Armstrong had fouled Marcus Rashford in the box.


Solskjaer Wrong to Waste Rashford on the Wing

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had found the formula to get Rashford back on track, simply by playing him through the middle. Yet it's only taken a few goals from Lukaku for United's caretaker boss to fall into the trap of predecessor Jose Mourinho, namely wasting Rashford on the wing.

Rashford looked lost on the wing.
Rashford looked lost on the wing.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The England international cut a frustrated figure throughout the opening 45 minutes against a well-organised Saints team. He tried to rotate fluidly with Lukaku and Sanchez, but the timing of his runs was just a little off, while the movement wasn't always synchronised precisely along United's front three.

Rashford also played with the handbrake on because of the extra defensive responsibilities inherent in a wide role. The increased workload took away the sudden pace and unerring instincts he's been showcasing when played in his natural position as a centre-forward.

If there was one moment that vividly illustrated how much Rashford wanted to be in more familiar territory, it came when he got in the way of the man who had taken his preferred spot:

Simon Stone @sistoney67

Rashford just took one off Lukaku's toe after Sanchez created opportunity with superb reverse pass.

Things hardly improved after the break, even though Rashford won the late spot-kick Pogba wasted.

Rashford is a different player when he starts through the middle. Solskjaer doesn't need to make things so complicated; just play the 21-year-old where he's at his best.


United's Potent Attack Won't Be Enough to Overcome Defensive Woes in Top-4 Hunt

United should count their blessings their attack is one of the most potent in the division. Without it, Solskjaer's men would have no chance of reaching the top four thanks to a jittery defence still too generous in allowing chances.

Even a team as goal-shy as the Saints, who had only scored 30 top-flight goals before today, found opportunities easy to come by.

Samuel Luckhurst @samuelluckhurst

Excellent chance for Vestergaard from a corner. Unmarked but nods it over. Should have scored. Sanchez roaming for #mufc but hasn't got anywhere in opening 10.

David McDonnell @DiscoMirror

Smalling lucky not to concede a penalty there. Grabbed hold of Bertrand's shirt after he had got in behind him #MUFC #SFC @MirrorFootball

Had referee Stuart Atwell been in better positions and been braver with his decisions, Southampton would have been awarded two penalties in the first half. The lucky escapes masked the nerves and indecisiveness at the back for the hosts.

Nerves often spread, and even United's most dependable denier of goals fell victim:

James Robson @jamesrobsonES

Looks like De Gea should have done better. Gets both hands to it and it’s not in the top corner

Panic was still obvious even after United had fought back to take the lead at 2-1. It was no surprise when Southampton found the net again, courtesy of Ward-Prowse.

In terms of depth and quality in the final third, United's squad is as good as any in Europe. Yet if the Red Devils miss out on a place in next season's Champions League, Solskjaerand Co. won't need to look beyond a weak defence for the reason why.


What's Next?

United are in action in the Champions League on Wednesday when Solskjaer's men travel to the French capital to face Paris Saint-Germain. The Reds trail 2-0 on aggregate ahead of the second leg in the last 16.

Meanwhile, Southampton will host Spurs on Saturday, March 9.