With Adnan Januzaj back in action for the U21s, next to last week’s hat-trick hero Will Keane, things were looking good on paper for United against Southampton’s second best men. Supported by the player probably being man of the match – Andreas Pereira – the Saints were in for a bumpy ride.
Flare gun fun
The returned Belgian Januzaj was on the brink of setting up a huge change after only a pocketful of minutes, finding Varela on the overlap, able to square it, but Harrison Reed was alert and intercepted it.
Will Keane was looking for the scoresheet only a matter of minutes later, being on the receiving end of a wonderful lobbed pass by the playmaker Andreas Pereira. Keane chipped it over the defender in a superior manner, but the volleyed finish went some distance off target.
Those three chances were only a flare signal of what whas about to hit the guests at Leigh Sports Village in Wigan.
The attacking trio, proving ability certainly beloning on a higher level than this, was on the front foot once again inside the opening ten minutes. Pereira looked for Januzaj out wide, who immediately looked for his front man, but the Belgian hesitated and the opportunity went into nothing – at least for now.
The game calmed down a few notches, before United launched a blizkrieg attack on the left. Love overlapped Weir, squared it for Januzaj, who would’ve scored with a finish slotted anywhere else on the target than where he hit it – just at Paulo Gazzaniga. But United’s number eleven was going to get a pay-off later.
Southampton turn up, at least for a while
Despite United’s dominance, Southampton came close to a smash-and-grab lead in the 38th minute. Ryan Seager, who’s usually scoring the goals for the Saints, set up Jake Hesketh, who nearly explloited the space McNair hesitated to enter. However, the powerful finish went wide of the target.
Only a couple of minutes later, the guests came even closer to taking the lead, as the physically strong right-back Bevis Mugabi beat Donald Love aerially from a corner, and absolutely rattled the crossbar.
United not leaving the first half empty-handed
The game was just about approaching half-time when United – finally – got the break-through. Will keane had dropped deep, found Januzaj who had cut in centrally, and the Belgian pulled the trigger from outside the box. The former Borussia Dortmund player had a little bit of look as the shot took a slight deflection, but he probably couldn’t care less, as the ball went into the bottom corner.
As the second half took shape, United kept knocking on the door, with various and usually peripheric attempts without providing too much menace. However, when Januzaj approached some space in the middle of the park and found Varela out wide, the alarm signals started blinking for Southampton. Varela, previously being loaned out to Real Madrid Castilla for a reason, crossed it excellently from deep towards Will Keane, who headed home to extend United’s lead – 2-0!
Almost immediately after, United had several chances to extend the gap even further. Pereira hit the wall with a free-kick, but Willock delivered a powerful attempt from distance on the rebound. Subsequently Keane couldn’t get to tap it in from a cross, and then Pereira displayed some sublime artistry. As the ball came flying out outside the box, the Brazilian juggled it a few times, including in a lovely arch over a defender, finished with the opposite foot and was just an excellent reflex save from Gazzaniga away from providing a goal of the season contender!
A tug of the shirt leaves Saints in the dirt
Twenty-one minutes from time, United finally put the game to bed. Pereira, being in the mood for trickery, played Januzaj through with a fancy back-heeled pass, and the Saints defender resorted to a tug of the shirt, which inevitably led to a penalty. Despite both Belgians probably craving to execute Southampton’s hope’s of a point, Will Keane was the man to step up – and he made no mistakes from twelve yards.
Januzaj signs the end note
United, however, weren’t done for the night, and particularly not Adnan Januzaj. The subsitute Joe Riley, who slotted in at left back, threw it for Will Keane, who displayed a Cristiano Ronaldo-esque flick, squared it back for Januzaj, who tapped in his second of the night. Warren Joyce, however, didn’t allow him to have a go at the hat-trick, as he immediately subbed him off for Sadique El Fitouri.
It didn’t really happen much more in Wigan, with the game being beyond repair for the St Mary’s outfit, and United starting to charge the batteries for friday’s FA Youth Cup showdown against Chelsea, and it faded into an unevenful ending, which obviously wasn’t a problem for Warren Joyce’ men.
Manchester United 1-0 Southampton
MUFC: Januzaj 44, 79, W. Keane 53, 69 (pen) | SFC:
Manchester United: Romero – Varela, Williams, McNair, Love – Januzaj (El Fitouri 81), Fosu-Mensah (Riley 72), Willock, Weir – A. Pereira – W. Keane
Subs: J. Pereira, Riley, El Fitouri, Redmond, Rashford
Southampton: Gazzaniga – Mugabi, Jones, Stephens, Debayo – Gape, Hesketh, Reed – Gallagher, Seager, Sims
Subs: Olomola, Lewis, Little, Wilkin, Cook