Saturday’s game at St Mary’s was the first time this season when Manchester United have arguably come away from the game with more than they deserved.
Lesser sides, even the United teams of the last four years, would not have come away from the south coast with a victory, but Jose Mourinho has drilled this side well, so they can go to such places and get the job done.
That they had to go to a back five for the final part of the game and were camped in their own penalty area for it won’t have pleased the Portuguese manager, but the fact that they held out and didn’t really offer up too many clear chances to their opponents will please him greatly.
Symptomatic of determination
Phil Jones and Eric Bailly showed the solidity that Mourinho demands, with the Englishman, in particular, putting in one of his best performances in what has been an up and down time at United.
To say it was John Terry-esque would be a lazy similarity to make (English centre-half, back to the wall performance, no-nonsense player, Mourinho), but he has put himself forward to be the number one centre-half in this side.
Of greatest significance though was the grit and determination that they showed in grinding out this win.
United could have scored more than one goal during the first hour, but they didn’t and to be honest their attacking play didn’t really merit more than one goal, in contrast to a few of their other games this season when they’ve been racking up 4-0 victories all over the place.
Marcus Rashford’s best work came with a lot of the tracking back that he had to do, and it was testament to how much his game intelligence has come on that he performed well in this role.
The same goes for Juan Mata, who could be found in his own penalty area clearing the ball away from danger.
Southampton’s weakness is probably in attack, where they seem to have carried on from last season in their relative ineptness in front of goal. They have now failed to score in nine of their last eleven home games.
Shane Long was consistently left isolated and was often running down blind alleys while Manolo Gabbiadini is very much a shadow of the striker we saw when he first arrived in English football in January.
Claude Puel lost his job over this poor goal return and his successor, Mauricio Pellegrino, still has plenty of work to do in that area.
However, the defending still had to be done and United were up to the task on a day when they weren’t at their sharpest. The ability to grind out away wins like that is often more important than the goal-gluts that other title challengers produced over the weekend.
It shows a side that has gritty qualities, that can wig ugly and pick up points when they’re not deserved, all the kind of things that Mourinho sides have had over the years and one which has led him to the big trophies at the end of the season.
We’re seeing it again now in this United side.
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