Southampton squandered a two goal lead in a thriller at St Mary’s after a late brace from super-sub Edinson Cavani saw Manchester United snatch all three points.
Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl named an unchanged starting 11 from the side which drew 1-1 at Wolves last time out. They faced a tough challenge against a United side, full of world class talent, who looked to overcome the Saints recent good form.
It was the visitors who started the brighter side, as the Saints noticeably lacked their usual intensity. This was highlighted just 6 minutes in to the game as a mix-up between Jannik Vestergaard and Alex McCarthy saw United wonderkid Mason Greenwood round the ‘keeper, only to hit the side netting from a tight angle. A let off for the Saints.
Just 10 minutes later United were knocking on the door again. Alex McCarthy’s right hand post was clipped from a deflected long-range Bruno Fernandes strike.
However, against the run of play, it was the Saints who took the lead midway through the first half through a well-worked corner. Hasenhuttl had clearly identified De Gea’s physical presence as a weakness in the United side as his players crowded around the Spanish international. Set-piece specialist James Ward-Prowse then delivered a quality corner to the near post for Jan Bednarek, who peeled away from Marcus Rashford, to flick in to the back of the net.
The goal gave the Saints some much needed confidence and with 33 minutes on the clock the lively Moussa Djenepo won a free kick just outside the penalty area. Up stepped the in-form James Ward-Prowse who yet again produced a masterclass in free-kick taking. His right-footed whipped effort had both pace and power which proved too much for De Gea who could only succeed in colliding with the post.
Ward-Prowse has now cemented his status as one of the, if not the, best free-kick taker in the Premier League right now. His effort against United moves him on to an impressive tally of 9 goals from direct set-pieces, the same number as Frank Lampard amassed in his career. Now only David Beckham is sitting above him in the leader-board (18 goals). Ward-Prowse is doing his chances of becoming a consistent figure in England’s midfield at next year’s Euros no harm by surrounding himself in the same conversation as such national legends.
With the Saints ending the half the better team and two goals to the good, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided to bring on deadline day signing Edinson Cavani for the second half, replacing the uncharacteristically wasteful Mason Greenwood.
His decision was rewarded on the hour mark as the Uruguayan international picked out the unmarked Bruno Fernandes who had time to turn in the Saints box and sweep home from 6 yards out.
The Saints, who provided very little going forward in the second half, were now faced with the task of holding on to their lead but were finding it increasingly hard to deal with United’s superstar attack. They conceded again with just under 15 minutes to play as Fernandes’ deflected effort from the edge of the box was met by Cavani who expertly guided a headed effort in to the bottom corner.
As the game entered injury time, it was looking like the Saints were going to hold on for a point, a result I’m sure they would’ve been content with. But it wasn’t to be. Cavani stole the limelight with a winner moments before the full time whistle to break Saints fans hearts. An inviting cross from Marcus Rashford was met by the ex-PSG man who managed to get in between the two Saints centre-backs to nod home and complete a stunning comeback.
The late drama means Southampton drop to 6th in the table, having missed the chance to get in to the top 3. United, however, end the weekend in 9th and could leapfrog the Saints if they win their game in hand.
Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl will inevitably be frustrated after seeing his team squander a two goal lead but was keen to take the positives from the game “We had some fantastic moments – the best I think we can against such sides. I am very happy about what we can play today. The second half, sure, was difficult but we must see the quality and in the end, how difficult it is to defend against the other team. I think the game was good to watch.”
Up next for Southampton, who will be looking to get back to winning ways, is a visit to the Amex Stadium to face Brighton on Monday night as the intense festive schedule starts.
FT: SOUTHAMPTON 2-3 Manchester United (Bednarek 23′, Ward-Prowse 33′) (Bruno Fernandes 60′, Cavani 74′, 90+2′)
Southampton: McCarthy, Walker-Peters (N’Lundulu 90+4′), Bednarek, Vestergaard, Bertrand, Armstrong (Diallo 90′), Romeu, Ward-Prowse (booked), Djenepo (Long 72′), Walcott, Adams. Unused subs: Forster, Stephens, Obafemi, Tella
Manchester United: De Gea (Henderson 45′), Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Telles (Williams 84′), Matic, Fred, van de Beek, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford, Greenwood (Cavani 45′). Unused subs: Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe. Mata, James.
Wessex Scene Man of the Match: Edinson Cavani (Manchester United)
Referee: Jonathan Moss