The brooding presence of Sir Alex Ferguson grows more and more remorseless in the eyeline of David Moyes. At moments the new manager gazed out on perimeter advertising, the main stand nameplate and the vast “Impossible Dream” banner which all proclaimed the man who was sitting behind him in the directors’ box.
The latest setback in Moyes’ attempts to drive for new horizons and leave the past where it belongs was nothing like so calamitous as the last time he sent out a team at Old Trafford, when a 2-1 scoreline against West Bromwich Albion might have been double that. There were pockets of what you might call the “old” United. But it was a desperate outcome, for all that.
For once, Moyes seemed to have written the script. He selected Adnan Januzaj, on the day when a new five-year contract for the 18‑year-old was announced to a sense of immense collective relief. He watched him provide a 40-yard pass which carved out a goal and seemed to have been the game changer. And then he saw it all cancelled out by a scrappy, last gasp six-yard box mêlée. The mess was so absolute that even Southampton’s manager Mauricio Pochettino didn’t know who had scored.
Moyes just didn’t know how his players had lacked the professionalism to defend to the death and hold their lead.
It would be tempting to say that the finale was another of the myriad ways in which United have become less fearsome. Moyes and Pochettino were both pressed hard in last night’s press conference on whether – “with the greatest respect,” as the notion was put to the former – Old Trafford is a less fearsome place, now Ferguson has gone. Pochettino, who talks a good game and fields teams who play an extremely good one, declared that “never do I face a game or play a game in a fearful way.”
With mild indignation Moyes observed that “Sir Alex is a great history but the players are the ones who do it on the pitch.” The problem that faces the new manager, with Ferguson’s face still popping up here, there and everywhere at the ground, is that every setback will be attributed – over-simplistically – to the changing of the guard.
This outcome was certainly more complex than that. The match was the story of an individually very talented Southampton – with Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana looking in their natural realm inside Old Trafford – proving a match for a United side for whom Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Januzaj and, intermittently, Luis Nani – all delivered in bursts. After a very challenging opening 10 minutes had been weathered and some of their carelessness in defensive possession under Pochettino’s pressing tactics had gone unpunished, United provided some of the finest class they have displayed since the managerial succession.
Michael Carrick lofted an easy ball for van Persie, who manufactured a looping shot with the outside of his boot which fell inches wide. Nani cut back inside a dazzled Morgan Schneiderlin, caught sight of the same Dutchman, who drove a shot at the generally impenetrable Artur Boric. And then Januzaj, whose notional five years here had started quietly, carved out the ball from inches inside the visitors’ half which sent Rooney careering through to shoot, with Van Persie alongside him to pounce on the rebound and score. “It was a great goal. He was part of our best passing movements today,” Moyes said of Januzaj who was booked for a second successive game
It was one of those relatively rare Nani multiple step-over days, when you realise why United have signed him on for another five years, too. He set back a ball which sat up beautifully for Rooney, who rattled it against the bar.
“We had some doubts at that time. We didn’t know how to go on from them scoring that goal,” Pochettino reflected. Southampton did find defensive order. There is a reason why Van Persie’s had been only the third they had conceded. And for as long as United’s pursuit of a second was thwarted – Van Persie guided a header against the crossbar; Nani and Januzaj both brought immaculate saves from Boruc – Southampton had the individual talent to find an equaliser. Opportunities were rare but after Luke Shaw’s corner was prodded by Lovren towards the goal, Lallana got the last touch from a position right in front of David de Gea.
“We had pockets when we were good but other moments where we were not so good,” Moyes reflected. “We had opportunities to get the goals and maybe see it off. We have to defence against the set piece.” Which might be a post-match script from any United game in recent years. United’s in-house TV station digested this, considered the result which leaves the club with only three wins from eight in the division, and cut to the night’s big event. The “exclusive interview” with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Evans, Evra; Nani (Giggs, 68), Carrick, Fellaini (Welbeck, 76), Januzaj; Rooney (Smalling, 86), Van Persie.
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Wanyama (Do Prado, 82), Schneiderlin; Lallana, Rodriguez (Lambert, 56), S Davis (Ward-Prowse, 66); Osvaldo.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire)
Man of the match: Artur Boruc (Southampton)
Match rating: 7/10
Fergie: Just one trophy will do
Sir Alex Ferguson believes it would be a “fantastic achievement” for David Moyes to win any trophy with Manchester United this season.
Moyes has not had the easiest of transitions after replacing Ferguson as manager. Yesterday's 1-1 draw at home to Southampton means United have won only three of their opening eight League matches.
They have already dropped eight points behind leaders Arsenal and it looks unlikely they will mount a successful defence of the championship Ferguson won for the 13th time in May before his emotional farewell. However, United have begun their Champions League campaign well and also defeated Liverpool to advance in the Capital One Cup.
Ferguson claimed any kind of silverware should be regarded as a success this term: “For David, winning a trophy would be a fantastic achievement. No matter what it is – the League Cup, FA Cup, European Cup or Premier League.”
Are the signs good for United's new Boy Wonder?
Come in No 44
After penning a five-year deal with United yesterday morning, Old Trafford stadium announcer Alan Keegan delivers the words “Number 44 Adnan Januzaj” with gusto prior to kick-off and the response is wildly enthusiastic. But the footballing welcome is more clinical. Within two minutes he is upended by right back Nathaniel Clyne.
After a quiet half-hour, he sets Old Trafford alight with a gorgeous ball from an inch or two inside the Southampton half, weighted immaculately across 40 yards for Wayne Rooney to gather and shoot. Robin van Persie collects the rebound to score.
Moyes informs reporters after the game that he's told his prodigy that opponents will try to kick him. “You have to be ready for it.” But Januzaj has had enough of Clyne's “exuberant” treatment of him and slides into a rash tackle as the defender advances. Januzaj is booked, as he was against Sunderland last time out.
Always a threat
But the brush with authority does not affect his temperament. As United's attacking threat resumes, he fires a powerful, swerving effort from 30 yards which brings the best from Artur Boric, forced to react to the late dip on the ball.
Follow all today’s action from the Premier League by CLICKING HEREReuse content