Martial and Mata goals help Man Utd sink Saints in five-goal thriller
Manchester United edged hosts Southampton 3-2 on the south coast in an exciting encounter, with the result propelling the Red Devils to second in the Premier League behind rivals Manchester City, thanks to goals from Anthony Martial and Juan Mata.
It was the Saints of old that first turned up to thrill fans in the opening stages at St Mary’s, hearkening back to last season’s success as they bossed the midfield battle and took advantage of former player Luke Shaw’s absence, with incisive attacks down Man Utd’s shaky left-hand side.
Out-fought and out-thought by Southampton, United toiled while Saints got the first chance on target, as an in-form Graziano Pelle powered past Daley Blind, whose lack of pace and physicality was exposed by the Italian.
Poacher Pelle pinged a cross into the box with playmaker Dusan Tadic narrowly shooting wide, but it was a sign of things to come, as the St Mary’s side continued to carve out chances at will in the first 25 minutes.
A supposed summer target for the Red Devils, Sadio Mane helped inflict damage on his potential suitors by bursting through midfield. A return cross from James Ward-Prowse found the Senegalese forward, but David de Gea’s reflex save was superbly equal to the strike. Yet, the Spain stopper could not pevent Pelle slotting home after gobbling up the rebound.
Despite being behind, United showed little spark, almost succumbing again shortly after, with Pelle in search of a second. The Azzurri international hit the post, however, allowing the guests back into the game.
Neat work from Memphis Depay showed the Saints’ defence could be distracted, but summer striker signing Martial, seemingly shocked to find himself in space, fired wildly over the bar.
Interplay between Memphis and Martial looked promising, and the young Frenchman showed maturity beyond his years to hand Louis van Gaal’s men an equaliser around the 34th minute.
A spell of ponderous Man Utd possession led to a lapse in the hosts’ concentration, as Mata latched onto a loose second ball from an offside position. The Spaniard managed to slide a pass through to Martial, whose quick feet wrong-footed Virgil van Dijk, with a cool turn and finish following to make it two in two for the France forward.
Buoyed by the goal, United almost capitalised on another creative and clever set-piece, though Morgan Schneiderlin could only strike wide against his former club, after Memphis had astutely played a corner around the back to Mata.
Louis van Gaal could not have asked for a better start to the second half, as Martial continued his miraculous adaptation to life in a Man Utd shirt, competing his brace in the 50th minute.
It was Japan international Maya Yoshida who let his side down with an inexplicably sloppy back pass. Alert Martial pounced accordingly to clinically convert a second and finally put the visitors on the front foot.
De Gea then showed just why the Old Trafford hierarchy were so keen to keep the custodian, amazingly keeping out a close-range flick from defender Jose Fonte, repelling the close-range and high speed chance with just one hand.
With Southampton lacking their earlier impressive intensity and again slack in defence, unmarked Mata made it 3-1 to Man Utd after Memphis, still to net in the league, saw his shot ping back off the post into the path of the playmaker, who duly dispatched.
In the final five minutes of normal time it was United’s turn to switch off in defence, as Mane found space outside to whip in a quick cross, with Pelle once again on hand, this time to head home the fifth goal of the game and make for a frantic finish.
United made it through Saints’ late pressure to snatch all three points, though the two teams will have food for thought on Monday morning after sloppy mistakes by both proved costly.