A sublime Bruno Fernandes strike at Southampton this afternoon ensured Manchester United registered back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time under Erik ten Hag.
Following their morale-boosting victory over Liverpool earlier in the week, United ran out 1-0 winners, consequently ending a run of seven consecutive top-flight away defeats (which they’ve not experienced since 1936), but it could have been more if not for the Saints’ brilliant last-ditch defensive work.
Ten Hag’s men were unlucky not to be in front at half-time. Fernandes, Anthony Elanga and Christian Eriksen all had attempts inside Southampton’s penalty area, only for goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu and Kyle Walker-Peters to stand in their way. Moments after the break Armel Bella-Kotchap produced another stunning tackle to deny Elanga, but that was only a prelude to Fernandes incredible breakthrough goal.
Elanga found Sancho, who fed the overlapping Diogo Dalot. The right-back subsequently picked out his countryman Fernandes in acres of space on the edge of the box and he slammed United in front through a perfectly executed first-time volley. “It was a great ball [for the goal], even great play from behind,” he told BT Sport afterwards. “Everything was perfect. Someone runs, someone gets the space behind. We did it well, so well done to everyone. Not just me.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 27, 2022
A danger throughout, that effort was Fernandes’ fifth shot on goal, the first time he’s produced at least this much in a Premier League match since facing Watford in February 2022 (8 shots). Having fallen below his standards at the tail end of last season, many questioned Fernandes’ role in this United team. Especially under a new management. Ten Hag named an unchanged starting eleven with the Portuguese international operating in a deep-lying forward position that somewhat accentuated his strengths, even if it still feels like a work in progress.
Not just Fernandes, but United as a whole, today marked their first clean sheet under Ten Hag and unbelievably a maiden shutout on the road this year. Last time they played away from home, United infamously shipped in four unanswered goals at Brentford, with the much-maligned David de Gea coming under heavy scrutiny. He made amends at St Mary’s by producing crucial saves. But it was Lisandro Martinez — another with the spotlight on him — that stood up in more ways than one.
Lisandro Martinez’s game by numbers vs. Southampton:
100% duels won
6 duels won
5 aerial duels won
5x possession won
— Squawka (@Squawka) August 27, 2022
United’s major summer defensive acquisition won more aerial duels (5) and made more interceptions (4) than any other United player. In fact this was the most aerial duels won in a single Premier League game by a Man United player this season. He had failed to win a single aerial duel (and only contested one) before today’s game. For a centre-back having to deal with questions over his stature, this was obviously a marked improvement and though Ten Hag feels the lessons of Brentford were learnt, United are nowhere close to being where he wants them but they are still going in the right direction.
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“I think the players learnt some lessons from Brentford. We were more compact on the long balls. Of course we were really happy. The goal we created, we could have made more. You hope to have more control in the last 30 minutes of the game,” he told BT Sport.
“Before half time we already had the best chance of the game. I was satisfied. At the start of the game we could have created more. It is the start of the season, it is tough. You have to battle and we did that today so we were rewarded.
“It was a fantastic finish. I am really happy for Bruno [Fernandes]. But I think it was the best part of us. We kept control straight after half time. We moved it around and we created three really good chances straight after half time and that is how I want us to play.
“I still feel there is room for improvement, to control more, but we are not that long in our way. We can improve that is clear.”