Well, another squeaky bum performance from our once brave cavaliers of Sir Matt Busby Way, but three points in the bag is what we needed last night, and third in the league is where we should be at the very least.
Van Gaal laid out his team in a similar format to the Arsenal game, with a 3-5-2 formation meaning Southampton would have to penetrate a packed midfield. Strangely, they never really took the option of burning down the wings to attack the out of position Valencia, who’s never whether to attack or defend, and the reborn Young, who actually seems more comfortable as a left wing-back than an out-and-out winger.
With youthful fullbacks as promising as Clyne and Bertrand, that storming of the flanks seemed inevitable, but it mostly never materialised. With Shane Long and an out-of-form Tadic left as the main creators, we were let off easy.
After a succession of decent performances, Fellaini had a night to forget as he showed his clumsiness and poor distribution once more. He doesn’t look as comfortable in that deeper role, and that may not be about to change. Carrick was calm and steady in midfield and later in defence, and it’s no coincidence that United’s much improved performances and league position have come since his return.
Mata let the game pass him by, whilst Herrera, brought on in the 39th minute, added some semblance of creativity to the midfield. The fact that Van Gaal had the balls to take off McNair, who was very shaky in this game, showed a decisiveness not seen under Moyes’. “It is only one match, one moment in a lifetime,” Van Gaal offered after the game – words that should comfort young Paddy.
De Gea continues to show he can win games for United, with match-saving acrobatics using all parts of his body. He is showing he can become as good as Schmeichel. The board need to offer De Gea a Spanish king’s ransom to keep him; there are many good goalkeepers, but not so many great ones.
Van Persie – what a game he had after his much-maligned performance at Arsenal. He was man of the match, and not just for his two well-taken goals, but his ball control and holding, distribution and defensive assistance were superb.
I thought Rooney looked a little out of the game, and showed his petulance at one stage as he chased down Clyne after losing the ball. I thought he might get himself sent off, but despite his frustrations at referee Kevin Friend, who I thought did quite well, he finished with just a yellow card to his name.
So, Van Gaal proved to be the Dutch master in this encounter with his old adversary Koeman, but at least they shared a cordial handshake, and Louis must be very pleased that he left St Mary’s unscathed and victorious.
But for me, the real Dutch master on the night was Robin Van Persie, who’s return to form is a massive boost and a big relief. And the handing of his shirt to a frostbitten young lady in the crowd was a nice touch – I’ll be checking eBay later!
We face Liverpool next, and with Rodgers not showing the managerial acumen we saw last season, the loss of their goal machine Suarez, and Gerrard’s tired legs and mind, we should overcome our old nemisis… right?