Manchester United are now two for two in the Premier League after the return of competitive football to Old Trafford. United host Southampton in their second league game of the season and defeated their guests 2-0. Manager Jose Mourinho made just one change in his starting lineup, as Paul Pogba started on his return to Manchester United in place of Ander Herrera.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring for United with his third goal in as three appearances for United, as he towered over the Southampton defence to head a Wayne Rooney cross past Fraser Forster. Ibrahimovic doubled United’s lead early in the second half with a well-placed penalty after Luke Shaw was brought down in the penalty area.
United was more than happy to let Southampton have the bulk of possession – a rarity for United in recent years – and played more directly in attack when they do have the ball in the first half, continuing the theme of a more cautious first half. Again, as they did the previous weeks, United opened up in the second half, but this time, they produced some of the best football the Old Trafford faithful have seen in years. As a result, we’re spoiled for choice for this piece.
The centre-back pairing of Daley Blind and Eric Bailly were perhaps the only ones to not perform as well as last week, while Anthony Martial still looked off the pace, but the rest of the team played admirably. Both full backs, Shaw and Antonio Valencia were solid in defence and dangerous in attack, Marouane Fellaini won the ball well in midfield and Pogba alongside him carried the ball forwards and created chances effortlessly. Rooney and Juan Mata also did well in finding space and passes toward the final third.
But when the game is won by a player’s two goals, it’s quite hard to upstage him. Apart from the obvious goalscoring contributions, Ibrahimovic showed that he’s more than just a goalscorer. Most times Ibrahimovic spent his time on the pitch not pressuring the opposition backline or waiting in the box, but dropping deeper and aiding in the build-up play. Many times he’d be the one creating the chance instead of being in the end of it, for instance in the second half when he curled a pass for Martial just outside the area.
Of course, as a striker, his main threat shouldn’t be in the build-up, but as the one on the end of it. And he provided that as well. His mere presence in the penalty area creates danger, as was the case for his first goal. For years, United have not had a striker who could get on the end on, or even inspire the idea for a cross like Rooney’s, but there was Ibrahimovic converting it.
While his style of play means he won’t always be involved in everything, he still did his bit defensively, tracking back to help win the ball when needed. He balanced out dropping deeper to either help build up play or win the ball back, with being a menace in front of goal, scoring two to win the match for United, and also to win him today’s honour of being Man of the Match.