Marcus Rashford was ‘phenomenal’ in Southampton victory, says Jose Mourinho

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has stated that Marcus Rashford was ‘phenomenal’ in his defensive work in the 1-0 victory over Southampton in the Premier League at St Mary’s on Saturday afternoon. It was the sixth league match for United this season, winning five – three of them with a 4-0 scoreline, drawing once, a 2-2 result away to Stoke City. United share the top spot with Manchester City, based on points amassed this season – 16, but sit in second place because of goal difference, City scoring four more goals so far this season. United have also played three other matches this season, a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, a 3-0 victory over FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League and a 4-1 victory over Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup.

Rashford played 90 minutes, being substituted off in added time, in the 1-0 victory over Southampton, with Romelu Lukaku scoring the only goal of the match in the 20th minute, earning United three valuable points. Last season, in this same fixture, United left the South Coast with a point after a boring 0-0 draw, just one of many both at home and away last season. Turning that into a win on Saturday is a sign of progress, not that many supporters see that as some have moaned about the manager, Lukaku not scoring enough goals, despite having scored eight goals in eight matches, you know the typical ‘Top Red’ fans who have supported the club for 60 years, giving them the right to moan.

In the second half against Southampton, United opposition pressured the team, pushing for the equalising goal, putting them level. It never came. Mourinho brought Ander Herrera on for Juan Mata in the 62nd minute, making two more changes; Chris Smalling on for Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the 75th minute and Daley Blind on for Rashford two minutes into stoppage time. The changes were defensive and perhaps not what supporters wanted to see, but looking from the outside, as we all are, surely the manager must need to find out if defence, and other players, were capable of winning a match by a 1-0 scoreline, as not every match will be a 4-0 thriller, despite what we had seen against West Ham United, Swansea City and again against Everton.

Rashford played on the left-wing for United, the position normally filled by Anthony Martial, who played against Burton Albion during the week, presumably rested ahead of the Champions League clash against CSKA Moscow in the Russian capital on Wednesday evening. The 19-year-old put in a very energetic performance, which did not go unnoticed by the manager, helping his side retain their lead, dealing with the attacking Southampton players and at times looking more of a left-back rather than an attacking player. Granted, you want to see players in attack, but last season, United did not deal with the pressure this well, conceding late goals which turned victories into draws, even turning draws into defeats. Mourinho, speaking to Sky Sports, said:

“Marcus [Rashford] was phenomenal, he was phenomenal. Cedric [Soares] is a very good offensive full back, and [James] Ward-Prowse is a good crosser of the ball, so it was a good side.

“Marcus felt what everybody else felt in the team, if we don’t concede we win three points, so let’s fight hard not to concede.

“It’s not always possible to have high quality, but we fought hard. We fought hard. We did for 20 to 25 minutes what many teams in the Premier League do for 90 minutes, which is play with five at the back and defend with a low block.

“But credit to Southampton, they played, tried to play, they always try, Pellegrino sent a second striker in to play more direct to play more aggressive.

“It was a hard game, and we fought really hard, and I’m really happy.”

It was not the greatest away match for United, but it was a match that a lacklustre United side got the victory they aimed for. Under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, of the 1,500 matches played, there were more than a handful of matches where United won despite not playing well, that being the difference between winning the league title and seeing another team win it. If United had beaten Southampton at St Mary’s last season, they would have been two points better off, which may not have done much to their final league position on its own, but with other matches, it may have seen United creep closer into the top four, finishing only seven points behind fourth-placed Liverpool. That is why this victory, despite it not being a high-scoring one, was a great result.

Mourinho spoke about his player’s sharpness, resting several first team players for the 4-1 victory over Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup last Wednesday, which could have seen some players step back from the form shown in previous weeks. United have a big squad and with the fixtures starting to come through thick and fast, players need to be rotated in order to keep them fresh later in the season. Some players will play a multitude of matches, missing other further down the line, others could be rotated on a match by match basis, which is a great system to ensure fitness. Speaking about the freshness and sharpness, Mourinho said:

“I felt that the game was really hard for us, when I felt we were not really fresh, despite many of the players not playing in midweek. Maybe it was the heat, because in Manchester we don’t see the sun often!

“But I felt some of the boys were not sharp, the attacking players were not sharp, I didn’t feel we could score two, three or four like we sometimes do, so the option was to go for the points.”

United may not have entertained against Southampton, but it was a sign that the defence, the midfield and the attack can all work together in order to grind out results. Many football supporters do not rate Rashford, seeing him as a player who is overrated because of what he has achieved on his debut for the club, also scoring on most debuts in competitions, but we know it is because of jealousy. If Rashford was a Manchester City, Chelsea or even an Arsenal player, many would be saying he is the best player in England. It is because he plays for Manchester United that many suggest he is not good enough. Remember him coming on for England against Iceland in the European Championships? He was the best player in that match, also playing the least amount of time compared to his teammates.

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