Manchester United’s worshiping of Cristiano Ronaldo backfires vs Southampton – Samuel Luckhurst


The pattern was almost identical. Manchester United deservingly led 1-0 at the interval only to sieve an equalizer shortly after the restart. At Burnley, it was in the 47th minute. Against Southampton, the 48th.

Much has changed in the year and 10 days since Southampton were annihilated 9-0 on the same patch. Crowds have returned at the expense of misleading training ground atmospheres and the mentality of United’s players has wilted with the playing field leveled and pressure cranked up. They have been found out and the punishment may be excommunication from the Champions League.

An interim manager is not going to instill these United players with anything resembling an acceptable mentality, never mind a winning one. Ralf Rangnick did his utmost to enliven the players as the clock ticked towards the 90th minute, running onto the pitch to kick the ball back.

Darren Fletcher barked at the fourth official over the flagrant time-wasting and there was the occasional defiant roar from supporters accustomed to late finishes. Harry Maguire planted a free header well within Fraser Forster’s reach in the dying embers. That ensured many matchgoers would boo at full-time.

United’s attacking sextet featured the names Pogba, Fernandes, Rashford, Sancho and Ronaldo. The days when the opposition were beaten in the tunnel are so distant the Old Trafford roof did not leak. “Who the f–k are Man United?” asked the Hampshire hordes. Southampton merited their point.

Many walking down the wet Warwick Road would have fancied Southampton, who usually show up at United bar last year’s aberration, to return with a positive result. Southampton had no intention of protecting a point after Che Adams arrowed in the equalizer and were the likelier side for much of the second-half.

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“Attack, attack, attack,” the Stretford Enders demanded in the 80th minute. Most of the attacking was at the Scoreboard End, where Maguire said with death against the tricky Armando Broja on two occasions.

The attack was the problem again for United. In the programme, they deified Cristiano Ronaldo for scoring ‘siiiu many goals’-referencing his celebration of him-when he was in the midst of his worst goalscoring drought since he was last at United. It is now even worse.

Ronaldo squandered an open goal inside the first five minutes and it was all downhill from there. He was repeatedly flagged for offside and immobile. The shirt weighs heavy on United players and it gets heavier amid a downpour. Ronaldo looks almost broken.

United intended to sign a younger center forward in the summer, with the undependable Edinson Cavani out of contract in June. If Cavani was on the bench, it would have been advisable to have introduced him for Ronaldo.

The rain is torrential this time of year, though, so Cavani cannot be counted on. The Uruguayan was at The Lowry Hotel on Friday night with the rest of the squad but declared himself unfit on Saturday morning. It was in February last year when Cavani, born on Valentine’s Day, started wilting like a bunch of roses.

Half-an-hour in, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes were involved in a constructive conversation during a lengthy stoppage before Pogba stepped away and was calmed down by Raphael Varane. In retrospect, it was during that stoppage where Southampton started to assert themselves and they ended the first-half buoyantly. United did not heed the warning less than three minutes into the restart and Adams finished tidily.

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The backbiting between teammates extended into the final minute, with the demanding Fernandes piqued by a hoik by Varane when he was free. Supporters were never going to repair the harmony at the final shrill.

A theme of United’s recent fixtures has been Jadon Sancho’s positive performances and his upward trajectory since the winter break at least continued. He has started so menacingly the Southampton analysts rewound the play on their laptops to discern how to counter the winger. They were devoid of a solution.

Sancho had done the bulk of the creating in the opening 20 minutes and then it was someone else’s turn, with Sancho motoring parallel to Marcus Rashford so he was present to tap in at the far post. Sancho may be one favorable strand to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s limp legacy.

Within moments of the analysts scrolling through the footage, Sancho was charging towards the Southampton area again, only he ignored the unattended Ronaldo and Sancho, much to the visible chagrin of both. That was a mere lapse and Sancho was United’s most dependable attacker in the denouement.

The humdrum atmosphere approaching kick-off was a consequence of the early start and also the apathy that is rife among the fanbase. Perhaps Diogo Dalot, a player developing a noticeable rapport with matchgoers, sensed it.

He was the first player to break away from the line-up and raced towards the supporters in Stretford End, applauding and cajoling them. He got the desired response and the crowd was noticeably lifted when Sancho struck. Then United regressed and the pattern continued.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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