Robin van Persie was United's hattrick hero on the path to a seemingly unlikely three points against newly promoted side Southampton. The Saints, playing at home, twice took the lead, but were thwarted on each occasion by United's newest Dutchman. Sir Alex, for the first time this season had the luxury of a fully-available back four in the form of Evra, Rafael, Ferdinand and Vidic, allowing Michael Carrick to slot into his preferred midfield role alongside Tom Cleverley. Welbeck, Valencia and Kagawa provided support for lone striker Robin van Persie up front. Following his slight mishap against Fulham, David de Gea dropped to the bench, allowing Anders Lindegaard his first start of the season.
The game began promisingly for United, with a lot of early possession, and some constant threat down the right-hand side in the form of Rafael and Antonio Valencia. Slowly however, Southampton began to impose themselves physically in the game, and Shinji Kagawa especially suffered from this, being as he was well-marked by midfielder Schneiderlin. And it was this growing physicality that indeed led to the opening goal of the game. With sixteen minuted on the clock, former Blackpool man Jason Puncheon crossed in from the right for Rickie Lambert to head in at the far post, easily out-jumping Rafael in the process. It was a shock lead for the home side, but United's response was swift, thanks to the first of RVP's three goals.
Antonio Valencia, who had been a constant threat up to this point, did well to find van Persie at the back post, who took advantage of Nathaniel Clyne's slip to chest the ball down and fire in the bottom corner, deflecting off goalkeeper Davis's shin on the way. It was a very typical half-volley from van Persie, and United fans hoped that it would calm the proceedings in United's favour. This was not so however, as Adam Lallana and Lambert constantly troubled the United backline, and indeed, it was a relief when United went into half time with the scores level.
The break in play did not deter the Saints' attacking endeavour in any way, and the home team once again came out with all the endeavour of most newly-promoted sides these days. They were justly rewarded too, when Schneiderlin regained Southampton's goal advantage. Rickie Lambert turned provider this time, crossing from the left, and it was Evra this time who slipped at the far post, allowing Schneiderlin a free header past Lindegaard. There was nothing that the Dane could have done with either goal, with both arising out of mistakes from United's fullbacks.
Sir Alex responded to this latest blip by bringing on Paul Scholes and Nani, the former setting RVP through on goal with his first pass, the resulting effort saved by Kelvin Davis. And the Southampton goalkeeper kept out van Persie once more, this time in the form of a penalty. Jos Hooiveld's reckless tackle on van Persie left referee Mike Dean with no option but to point to the spot, but RVP, normally so assured from the spot, failed in his attempt to outfox Davis with a "Panenka", much to chagrin of the United support, and his own personal disappointment.
As the match rolled into its dying moments, Sir Alex threw on Javier Hernández, who immediately showed some sharp control and movement off the ball. As time was running out, van Persie gave United an undeserved lifeline, pouncing onto a loose ball in the penalty area, after Ferdinand headed against the post from a Nani corner. With the score at 2-2, and 4 minutes of time added on, there could only really be one winner. And indeed it was the case, as van Persie completed his hattrick with a glancing header into the top corner from another Nani corner, securing the win in the process.
It was a vintage Manchester United result, in terms of the drama and the late goals, but certainly not in terms of the actual performance. Certain players like the midfield and defence disappointed, but hopefully, things will begin to gel better as the weeks go on. There are still some question marks as to whether the team's midfield will be capable enough to compete with the bigger teams. But if Robin van Persie continues to perform like that, even that might not be so much of a problem!
Best Moment: van Persie's winner
Worst Moment: Schneiderlin's goal
Man of the Match: Robin van Persie
Southampton 2-3 Manchester UnitedLambert 16'; Schneiderlin 55' - Robin van Persie 23', 87', 90'+2'(Assists: Valencia, Nani)
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