It wasn’t the prettiest victory, but it was three points all the same. Manchester United are starting to look like a team that is serious about being title contenders, and if they are to be in the running to win the Premier League, performances like today’s gritty win over Southampton will be occasionally required. Romelu Lukaku’s early goal put United ahead, and some staunch defending did the the rest.
José Mourinho named an unchanged side from last week's victory over Everton, as his first choice team starts to crystallize. There was no lightning quick start this week, however, and Southampton were arguably the better side in the opening minutes.
Ashley Young has seemingly made the left-back spot his own for now, and for good reason. It was Young’s overlapping on the wing that created United's opener. His peach of a cross was met by Lukaku’s header. Fraser Forster denied the inital effort with a sharp save, but Lukaku was the first to the rebound and put United 1-0 up in the 20th minute.
Seven minutes later, with the Reds now playing with confidence, Marcus Rashford was inches away from doubling the lead with a fierce effort directly from a free kick. Southampton hardly went into hiding after conceding the first goal, but United were now firmly in control.
Hearts were in mouths for the traveling fans in the 37th minute as Marouane Fellaini - suddenly a key player - went to ground clutching his achilles after a foul from Shane Long. Luckily, Fellaini was able to continue, and completed another disciplined midfield performance.
The rest of the half played out in a now familiar fashion. United were content to sit slightly deep and absorb Southampton’s forays forward, while themselves looking devastating on the counter attack.
Southampton emerged with much more purpose after the restart, and could have twice been ahead within five minutes of the start of the second half. As the Saints continued to put United’s backline under pressure, Mourinho responded by bolstering the midfield. Just after the hour mark, Ander Herrera came on in place of Juan Mata.
Mourinho’s men now had more of a strangle hold on the game, but the manager was not in the mood to take chances. With quarter of an hour to go, Chris Smalling came on for his first Premier League appearance of the season in place of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. United switched to a back 3 - or back 5, as Mourinho likes to remind us - in an attempt to see out the result.
Herrera had a chance to kill the game off near the 80th minute, but blasted a shot over, despite having ample time to place his effort. Chances were now few and far between, while Southampton continued to search for an equalizer. United held firm though, and the only late drama this week was a sending off for Mourinho in the dying seconds.