We enjoyed 60% possession today but didn’t manage a single shot on target – credit to Southampton for their performance, but clearly there are real issues for United. Van Gaal is persisting with 3-5-2 in the face of all the evidence, and it’s in that context that I’ve rated the players’ performances today…
David De Gea – 6/10
De Gea didn’t get a chance to show-off his shot-stopping today – Southampton’s only shot on target was the goal. His positioning was good for Graziano Pelle’s effort that hit the right post before Tadic scored; the way he closed Pelle down and spread his body was probably the reason the shot only hit the woodwork rather than the back of the net, but then Smalling left Tadic completely unmarked and Blackett missed his attempted goal-line clearance to allow the Serbian to score. De Gea’s distribution today was decent with a couple of nice kicks and throws to the wings, but 7 of his attempted 25 passes didn’t find a red shirt.
Luke Shaw – 5/10
Facing his former club, Shaw was no doubt keen to impress, and saw a fair bit of the ball before Van Gaal swapped him for Blackett. He completed 36/38 passes – even Xavi would be pleased with a 95% pass completion rate – but he never made it anywhere near the byline, doing most of his attacking work closer to the halfway line than Fraser Forster’s goal. In a 3-5-2, he needs to offer far more going forward.
Daley Blind – 7/10
Blind was United’s standout player today, which is by no means saying he set the world alight; rather, he simply looked comfortable in the role he had been given, going about his business in tidy, intelligent fashion. He reads the game well, and other than one foray forward where he lost possession (indirectly resulting in a corner for Southampton via some sloppy covering from Carrick), he was a confident presence on the pitch. He made more interceptions than any other United player, as well as completing 65/80 passes (81%). His versatility and footballing intelligence will serve us well, but clearly we can’t expect all our players to be so adaptable.
Chris Smalling – 4/10
Sitting in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, roughly half way up and right on the halfway line, I get a great view of the game, which means I was able to fully appreciate the general woefulness of Smalling’s performance today. The guy I was sat with said during the first half that he remembered Smalling coming from Fulham with a reputation as a languid, ball-playing centre-back in the Rio Ferdinand mould. Watching Smalling bumbling around like the world’s most awkward athlete, that notion seemed fairly absurd. Whether he was blasting the ball at Jones’ head from close range, falling over the ball or just failing at the basics of defending, he was infuriating to watch at times today, and has never struck me as a United-quality player.
Phil Jones – 5/10
Jones was mediocre at best today. He was playing on the right side of a central three, which meant he was mainly operating around the right flank – clearly not his natural habitat. But regardless of whether Van Gaal’s tactics suited Jones today, his major problems seem to be poor anticipation and poor reactions; it’s great to see him charging into tackles and winning aerial duals when he’s in the right kind of mood, but he just isn’t showing improvement in the mental side of his game, and no tactical adjustments will make up for that.
Antonio Valencia – 5/10
Valencia, like Shaw, seemed unwilling to take any real attacking risks today until we went 0-1 down, perhaps too aware of his defensive responsibilities in the 3-5-2 setup. He saw plenty of the ball, and looked like potentially our best outlet, but continually checked his runs down the right, cut inside, slowed the tempo, and gave Southampton time to regroup, rather than burning it to the byline and whipping in a low, pacey cross like we’re all willing him to do.
Michael Carrick – 5/10
Today, Carrick looked nothing like the player we all finally learned to love in Fergie’s final season. Rooney clearly isn’t a natural midfield partner for Carrick, but that’s essentially how they’ve been asked to play. Carrick has been credited with being the man who got United winning again following his return from injury, but today he wasn’t great. Maybe he needs a rest, but this is traditionally the point in the season where he starts hitting his best form, and we need to start seeing more of that.
Wayne Rooney – 4/10
Fans have been criticising Van Gaal for playing Rooney too deep. The evidence certainly suggests this is far from his best position, but he has shown in the past that he can still do a great job there when he’s on his game. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those days, and even as we chased the game with Rooney playing off Fellaini up-front, it just didn’t feel like Wayne was going to pop up with a goal.
Juan Mata – 5/10
Mata showed some good movement, but was largely suffocated by Wanyama and Schneiderlin, who both played brilliantly today. Towards the end, two fantastic chances fell to Mata, and he fluffed them both. For a player with his quality and experience, you’d expect more composure. He does look like he’s becoming a somewhat steelier player, but in a game like this where we created so few chances, we needed him to be more clinical.
Angel Di Maria – 4/10
Di Maria looked rusty today, but his team-mates perhaps needed to feed him more early on to give him a chance to get back in the match-day mode and rediscover some sharpness. He was the only forward player with any real pace, and we probably should have used him more, but it’s difficult to judge any player on their first game back from injury.
Robin Van Persie – 5/10
Van Persie’s involvement was limited today – he completed 13/16 passes, and had one shot. However, we all know that RVP can go a whole game doing seemingly very little, before popping up with a vital, beatifully taken goal, so I’m reluctant to be too harsh on the striker. It was disappointing to see him leave the field with an injury after finally getting back amongst the goals. We just have to hope that Falcao’s absence today is nowhere near as ominous as it seems, as we need his goals more than ever now.
Herrera – 5/10
Herrera didn’t make any real impact. Should have started after his wonderstrike against Yeovil.
Blackett – 5/10
Looked arguably less shit than Jones or Smalling, but maybe could have done on the line for the goal.
Fellaini – 5/10
Was depressing to see us resorting to long-balls to the big man with the hair as our ‘plan B’, but Fellaini did the job he’d been given as well as could be expected. However, the one proper chance that fell to him was blasted wildly over the bar.
Do you agree with our ratings? Let us know in the comments below.