LONDON: Southampton overtook Manchester United to reclaim third place in the Premier League after holding firm in defence for 70 minutes and then winning on the break through Dusan Tadic after Graziano Pelle hit a post.
This was a first win at Old Trafford in 27 years for a Saints team who demonstrated exactly where United are lacking – in defence.
Manager Ronald Koeman said: “It’s a fantastic feeling because even this season it is not for everyone to win at Old Trafford. Maybe in the final stages we were a bit lucky because of the two chances which went to Juan Mata but our players showed good spirit and organisation . . . a great win.”
Southampton’s solid defensive organisation restricted United’s Angel Di Maria and Robin Van Persie to only two shots on goal in the first half. Morgan Schneiderlin was outstanding with another solid display as defensive midfielder.
United manager Louis Van Gaal rung the changes in the second half, taking off the poor Van Persie and bringing on Marouane Fellaini up front. Unfortunately the only late chances fell not to a striker but to Juan Mata who was twice badly off target.
Defence still remains more of a problem than attack for United.
Van Gaal has indicated he is ready to spend if the right player becomes available. Before the game he said: “I don’t prefer to wait. I have shown that with signing [the former Barcelona keeper] Victor Valdes. When we can sign a player who can improve my selection I, or the club, shall buy.”
Earlier Arsenal moved on. Their 3-0 win over Stoke lifted the Gunners up to the fringe of their ‘usual place’ in the top four and relegated all the week’s banter to footnote status.
Ex-Bayer Philipp Wollscheid had a painful Premier debut for Stoke, even apart from a second-half yellow card for pulling Olivier Giroud’s shirt.
He and his colleagues gifted Laurent Koscielny a ‘free’ header for the opening goal after six minutes. Then Alexis Sanchez, who had provided the cross, scored Arsenal’s second and third goals either side of half-time.
These were the Chilean’s 11th and 12th goals of his first Premier season. Arsenal showed no sign of missing Lukas Podolski and could afford to give Mesut Ozil 17 second-half minutes after injury.
Podolski’s departing complaint of a ‘lack of respect’ from Arsene Wenger had been contested before kickoff by the Arsenal manager. Wenger said: “I had many conversations with Podolski. For example, without my agreement, he couldn’t go on loan to Inter or anywhere else.”
Stoke offered little danger to David Ospina. Colombia’s World Cup keeper was making his first Premier start in place of Wojciech Szczesny. The Pole had been disciplined and dropped for smoking a cigarette in the showers after his blunders in the Gunners’ 2:0 defeat by Southampton.
Maciel Szczesny, the player’s ex-goalkeeper father, had criticised Per Mertesacker & Co for not protecting his son adequately out on the pitch. That cut no ice with the manager. Wenger said: “I don’t listen to fathers, mothers, grandmothers or grandfathers.”