Manchester United produced a spectacular comeback from two goals down to beat Southampton 3-2 at St Mary’s.
The introduction of Edinson Cavani at half-time transformed United's fortunes, and gives them a club record eighth consecutive league victory on the road.
The result is a gut-punch for Southampton who started brilliantly, but failed to hold onto a lead that looked to have the game all but sewn up.
Ward-Prowse set pieces lethal once again
Like the United of old, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side did it the hard way.
The United manager made two changes to the side that beat Istanbul Basaksahir on Tuesday night, and it was one of those newly introduced that should have given United an early lead. Chasing what seemed a lost cause after an overhit pass from Alex Telles, Mason Greenwood capitalized on a miscommunication between Alex McCarthy and Jannick Vestegaard to latch onto the ball. Rounding the keeper, he was forced too far wide and couldn’t get the angle on his shot to direct it goalwards.
Moments later Marcus Rashford was brought down in the box, appeals for a penalty waved away by Jonathan Moss. The replays showed that the award may have been soft, but with the precedent set by Brighton’s late penalty against Liverpool on Saturday afternoon, Solskjaer’s frustration at VAR’s refusal to intervene was understandable.
With United firmly in control, Ralph Hasenhuttl began berating his team into pressing harder, pushing higher and upping the intensity. It worked.
Forcing United off the ball in midfield, a series of attacks brought them a corner. Meeting James Ward-Prowse’s in-swinging cross at the near post, Jan Bednarek headed home to give Southampton the lead. It was against the run of play, but once again United can only blame themselves for such defensive vulnerabilities from set-pieces.
United looked rocked as Southampton poured forward. Finding space at the edge of the area, Kyle Walker-Peters’ shot took a huge deflection to leave David De Gea stranded, but mercifully for the Spaniard the shot cannoned off the base of the post.
Southampton’s good work was almost undone by a disastrous defensive error when McCarthy’s scuffed clearance fell straight to the feet of Greenwood - but he more than made up for his mistake. Saving the first effort from Greenwood, the ball fell to Bruno Fernandes to tap home, but McCarthy was up to block the shot and save a certain equalizer.
That importance of that save became more apparent minutes later, when Southampton doubled their lead. Defending a direct free-kick against Ward-Prowse has to be one the most dangerous situations in the Premier League, and so it proved for Manchester United, as the England international curled the ball into the top corner. Questions may be asked about De Gea, who got across but couldn’t claw the ball away, but nothing should diminish from the quality of the strike.
Cavani leads United response
For all their early endeavour, United looked totally uncapable of dealing with the Southampton press, and the hosts were more than worthy of their two goal lead come half-time.
Solskjaer made two changes at the break, one enforced and one tactical, with Dean Henderson replacing the injured De Gea and Edinson Cavani on for Greenwood.
United should have had a goal back within minutes of the restart. After some good work on the wing by van de Beek, Fernandes set Rashford through on goal. With Cavani square waiting to tap the ball home, Rashford instead went for the shot, which McCarthy got down to push away. The Uruguayan made clear to Rashford his disgust at the decision; Rashford’s frustration was evident.
Soon it was Cavani’s turn to go close, as the ball fell to him at the edge of the six yard box. Turning and volleying in one movement, all inside St Mary’s expected the net to bulge, but his effort was deflected over the top for a corner.
He was at the centre of every United attack, and soon his contribution led to a goal. Racing down the right, he cut a ball back to Fernandes on the edge of the area, who took one touch to set himself and another to score.
It was almost 2-2 soon after, when Cavani found space in the area to head Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross goalwards, but his effort drifted agonisingly wide of the post.
But Southampton were living dangerously, and soon the pressure told. Totally unmarked on the edge of the box, Fernandes’ speculative shot was deflected into the path of Cavani who guided the ball home.
With the game all-square, both sides pushed for a winner, and there was no surprise who got it.
In added time, Rashford's low cross was met at the near post by Cavani, who nodded home to spark wild celebrations on the United bench. It was a trademark pocaher's goal, the like of which United have been missing before his introduction this summer.
Stunning comeback for United
The result will be a huge boost to a Manchester United dressing room that has faced some touch questions about their collective character this season.
For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose half-time changes transformed United's fortunes, it is another famous victory that demonstrated his ability to inspire United to hark back to the glory days of old.