United have learned their Martial lesson
Anthony Martial might be back in training, but that doesn’t mean he is back in the first-team squad yet. The French forward was not involved again as his side drew with Southampton.
United have been so overly reliant on Martial in the past that they have looked to rush him back into the line up, something that ends up derailing him in the long run and prolonging his injury problems.
Ten Hag admits his side plays better when they have Martial in the team, but he is well aware that putting him in a half-fit state would be to the greater detriment of the side. His absence was the least of their worries on Sunday afternoon.
A reckless red
Casemiro looked to be in utter disbelief when his challenge on Carlos Alcaraz received a red card, but he could have no complaint with such a strong follow-through that invited a VAR review.
The bigger problem for United is that they must now cope for four games without their most influential player and have no like-for-like replacement for him.
On a day when Ten Hag’s midfield experiment failed, the reckless red card can not be used as an excuse for their poor performance.
Midfield risk didn’t pay off
There was a new-look to the United midfield against Southampton, with Bruno Fernandes dropping into central midfield to play alongside Casemiro, effectively adopting the Christian Eriksen role.
This tactical set-up allowed United greater flexibility during the match and allowed them to utilise another attacking player, with Jadon Sancho deployed in the attacking midfield role.
It made United a much more threatening side whenever they went forward, but the flip side was that they were extremely porous out of possession and carved apart with relative ease.
This was yet another reminder that they need another midfielder who has the calmness and composure in possession as Ten Hag looks to transform his side into one that actually controls matches.
De Gea big saves
In an ideal world, David de Gea wouldn’t have much to do in the United goal, but in matches like the one on Sunday, they remain indebted to his regular brilliance in between the sticks.
This was by no means a vintage performance for the ages, though it was another that we have come to expect, as the Spaniard made vital saves that looked routine.
We saw the downside of his game with his poor distribution against Betis in midweek, but against Southampton we saw his brilliance with key saves in either half to deny Theo Walcott.
De Gea reacted brilliantly to tip a close-range header over the bar, and then stood his ground to draw Walcott closer and force a poor finish from the forward when he burst through on goal.
Despite his obvious flaws, the 32-year-old remains one of the finest shot-stoppers in the game. He is so much more often the hero than the villain.
A perfect partnership
It certainly felt like two points dropped by full-time, but if not for some impressive defensive work, it could have been worse. Southampton posed a threat throughout the game, and that only grew following the red card.
On another day, they might well have snatched all the points, but that would have relied on them finding a way beyond a resilient United defend that hung on until the end.
At the heart of it was the brilliant Lisandro Martinez who performed in his customary warrior-like style, while he was flanked by the impressive Luke Shaw.