Reaction and Player Ratings : Manchester United 1-1 Southampton


The front of Old Trafford was covered in a new advertisement for Tezos, one of those block-crypto-pseudo-nobody-seems-to-quite-know things. Front and centre there is Cristiano Ronaldo, smiling, and not quite looking like himself, ominously looking soullessly out on to the forecourt where the statues of Sir Matt Busby and the Trinity Statue face each other.

That’s Manchester United now; some things, like the name of Old Trafford, remain sacred, but perhaps only for fear of the reaction of that desecration, and certainly not for the want of trying.

After the publicised leak in the roof of the Stretford end, there is now one in the roof of the East Stand, albeit not quite as severe as at the other end – but enough to cause some discomfort to those when the torrential rain started to pour. The irony of it coming in the stand that now bears the commercial for a new £25m sponsor that is likely to be in the owners’ pockets before the end of this calendar year isn’t lost on anyone.

United finished second last season. Faced with the dilemma of allowing the club to reinvest its own money in the midfielder it sorely needed to at least try and bridge the gap to the top, the Glazer family instead saw the quick buck that was on offer in the formidable marketing profile of the-then 36 year old Cristiano Ronaldo.

Having failed to even look close to delivering the title his squad was incredibly unequipped to achieve, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer paid the price by losing his job in November. United have lost just one game since then but have been largely uninspiring under new (interim, as they love to remind us) manager Ralf Rangnick.

Since the late winner of Marcus Rashford three weeks ago, United have drawn 1-1 three times, each following the same pattern of a bright start and a first half goal and a progressive decline followed by a conceded goal and an uninspiring climax. When even the visiting manager explains that he had predicted and planned for it, both in terms of team application and individuals who can be targeted, you know something isn’t right in the latest Old Trafford rebuild.

Southampton are just the latest to exploit a trend, but they bucked one here too – they had more chances than United, so could hardly claim to have come away with a result they did not deserve. In fact, as the game wore on and the intention to expose Harry Maguire became more obvious, it looked as though they might well follow other teams who have enjoyed wins here.

United were bright at first. Paul Pogba’s decisive passing was a highlight and often it sprung rewards; by the time Jadon Sancho tapped in Marcus Rashford’s cross in the 21st minute, it was already a fair reward for the energetic performance of the former Dortmund winger.

Then Rashford and Sancho swapped sides and all the attacking momentum drifted; Southampton began to grow in confidence and there was a familiar unease around Old Trafford.

That feeling was justified early in the second half when Che Adams fired in off a post. Broja later forced De Gea into a save, and Stuart Armstrong ought to have done better from a position where Burnley and Wolves have profited in recent weeks.

Ronaldo thought he’d scored, but he was offside – as he was much of the afternoon. His biggest chance came early on, when he rounded Forster, but failed to finish with conviction. It’s now his longest run without a goal for over a decade. And he’s looking 37.

It’s a fair question to ask – what does he offer when he’s not scoring? And the answer isn’t great. It’s also a complex scenario, because although Sancho played well, he hasn’t always – and Rashford’s recent purple patch seemed to have disappeared with his poor form today. If there’s no decent delivery, and the full-backs most certainly did not provide it, then almost any centre-forward will be rendered ineffective.

It doesn’t let Ronaldo off the hook, of course. At first his frustrated reaction to poor performances looked like the attitude of a winner. Now he seems apathetic.

He’s one of many issues. Fernandes is the man who takes a gamble. He frustrates many, but others tolerate it because of the rewards it often brings. The issue is, that as games of this nature wear on, he loses his composure, and the gambles turn to carelessness right at the moment you need a cool head and a clinical eye.

And what is there to say about Maguire? He was dropped for poor form and recalled because of Victor Lindelof’s personal situation. He is back in the team and hasn’t recovered that form and unless he was speaking in the royal phraseology in midweek, he wasn’t ready to take accountability for what was quite obviously a personal error. Today he was specifically targeted and the Saints almost had even greater reward.

United’s supporters were rightly furious with the poor refereeing of Stuart Attwell, but their audible frustrations came mostly from their own team. When Rangnick brought off McTominay, he sacrificed the balance of the team, and United offered nothing.

Rangnick’s issue is the same as his predecessors. He’s having to make do with what he’s got and the reality is that even the changes he can make still aren’t good enough to form a team that can win a league title. Yes, it’s been said a lot how much United have spent and wasted, but under the Glazers, managers have been stuck with failures, unable to hastily replace players in the same manner as Manchester City. If they’re not good enough there, they’re gone within a season. At United, they stay for three, and then the manager is fired, and they get another two.

United’s supporters have been here often enough this season to be familiar with what was served up and there’s no dressing it up in faux dominance; it’s a lack of quality in many areas when it really matters.

Ralf Rangnick is talking the talk alright but he’s also going to need to make extra tough decisions, such as dealing with the Maguire scenario, if he’s to salvage any dignity whatsoever out of this season.

Then again, if the owners don’t care, then why should anyone else?


De Gea 6

Dalot 5

Varane 6

Maguire 4

Shaw 5

McTominay 6

Pogba 7

Fernandes 5

Sancho 8

Ronaldo 4

Rashford 4

Subs :



Wayne Barton

Wayne is a writer and producer. His numerous books on Manchester United include the family-authorised biography of Jimmy Murphy. He wrote and produced the BT Sport films 'Too Good To Go Down' in 2018, and 'True Genius', in 2021, both adapted from his books of the same name. In 2015 he was described by the Independent as the 'leading writer on Manchester United' and former club chairman Martin Edwards has described him as 'the pre-eminent writer on the club'.

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