Fernandes seals tight win for resurgent Manchester United at Southampton
The last time Manchester United were able to savour an away victory Victor Lindelöf partnered Harry Maguire at centre-back, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka began at full-back, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard started in midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo led the line. And Ralf Rangnick was in interim charge and lined up for a consultancy role.
Bruno Fernandes was one of only four survivors from that team and the Portuguese, seemingly thriving with the captain’s armband around his bicep, capped a sweeping move with a cunning volley to earn United a first away win since February and successive Premier League victories for the first time since that three points at Elland Road.
This is Erik ten Hag’s team these days and he is slowly asserting his authority on this group, with Casemiro, who entered with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, the only one of his four signings not to start. More new faces are expected too, with Ten Hag keen on signing a backup goalkeeper and a reunion with the Ajax forward Antony, who has made clear his desire to depart the Eredivisie club.
Tyrell Malacia was bright, Christian Eriksen was typically classy at the base of midfield and, for all of the flak that came his way following the dismal defeats by Brentford and Brighton, Lisandro Martínez was gallant in defence. Ronaldo arrived as a substitute but did not make a dent, his frustration summed up by the frown on his face as Mohammed Salisu shepherded a through-ball out for a Southampton goal-kick.
“I saw a team on the pitch, [with] good organisation, fighting for a each other, following the rules,” Ten Hag said. Asked to elaborate on those regulations, the United manager replied: “Do you have one hour? We started from the first day of pre-season to get that in and now the window is not closed so every time a new player is in we have to inform them about the rules. Football is a complicated sport, 11 players against 11, and it takes time first to present it and then to train it. It will take time but I have seen some good stuff and we won, and it’s about that.”
It was fraught at times and United were fortunate on the hour mark. Che Adams was dismayed when his appeals for handball against Scott McTominay were rejected by Andy Madley. The referee was looking directly at the incident but his view was possibly concealed by McTominay, who appeared to juggle the ball with both his left and right hands before swatting it away in the box. It is understood the video assistant referee, Peter Bankes, deemed McTominay’s arm not to be in an unnatural position and considered the close proximity to Adams. Ralph Hasenhüttl did his best to bite his tongue. “It was not one handball – it was three times,” he said. “When this isn’t handball, what should I say?”
United did not exactly overpower Southampton, who will wonder how they did not get on the scoresheet. Armel Bella-Kotchap poked over the bar with his left foot after getting a James Ward-Prowse corner under his spell with his right. Mohamed Elyounoussi then picked out Adams with a fine reverse pass but the in-form Southampton striker equally failed to adjust his feet. In the second half Joe Aribo saw a header repelled by David de Gea before Kyle Walker-Peters headed over.
United were in disbelief after somehow not scoring on 19 minutes. First Fernandes miscued a header from a Diogo Dalot cross under pressure from Walker-Peters and from there another barmy few seconds in the United chronicles ensued. Goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu hurried to his near post to deny Anthony Elanga. Then Fernandes swiped at goal but his volley smacked Walker-Peters in the face, before the impressive Bella-Kotchap flung himself at Eriksen’s low shot, the ball cannoning off his shin. Eriksen threw his right hand into the air in resignation.
Bella-Kotchap made another superb intervention when Elanga surged upfield and played a give-and-go with Fernandes. But just as Elanga shaped to shoot Bella-Kotchap nipped in to snaffle the ball without a trace.
Everything clicked for United three minutes later. Raphaël Varane passed the baton on to Elanga on halfway, Elanga made tracks inside and located Jadon Sancho, who cleverly shifted play wide to Dalot. His first-time cross from the right was sumptuous and Fernandes applied an expert finish to match. “There is a lot of room for improvement, that is quite clear, but for me that is normal,” Ten Hag said. “I’m new, [it is my] first cooperation with the team. It is a new way of playing and [there are] a lot of new facts. It will not go 100% at the start but we have to win games, we have to get results.”