Robin van Persie’s brace sealed a fifth consecutive victory for Manchester United away to Southampton on Monday night.
A woeful back pass by Jose Fonte gifted the Dutch striker the opener. Graziano Pelle ended his five-game goal drought with the equaliser, blasting a rebound of Dusan Tadic’s shot into the net.
Van Persie prodded home a Wayne Rooney free-kick for his 140th career Premier League goal- the tenth player to reach the landmark in history.
The victory, the Red Devils’ second on the road under Louis van Gaal, saw them climb to third in the table, eight points behind leaders Chelsea.
Ronald Koeman’s Southampton have now suffered three defeats in a row and remain fifth on the standings. They have lost all nine points from a run of games against the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal.
For the first time in the English Premier League history, two Dutch bosses squared up from opposing dugouts and according to reports; signals of clash of character were imminent as both managers, who have not faced each other for almost eight years, returned from the ruins of tales of antagonism which has consumed football in the Netherlands for over ten years.
It was more than certain the winner of the extended Week 15 encounter will climb up 5 points behind second-placed Manchester City. Southampton were the better side for much of the game and deserved the acsent but Van Persie’s second strike just nicked it for the visitors.
Rooney returned to United’s starting lineup after missing last week’s win over Stoke City with a knee injury. Paddy McNair was deployed to the defence with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia reverting to wing-back roles in Van Gaal’s famous three centre-backs system.
Koeman made two changes to the side that lost 1-0 at the Emirate Stadium as Maya Yoshida came in for the injured Toby Alderweireld and Saido Mane replaced Jack Cork in midfield.
As well as referee Kevin Friend’s kick-off whistle after the ‘Football Remembers’ formalities, both tactician did shake hands to quell tension a bit and assure football is in safe hands.
A cagey start… until Fonte gifted Van Persie the opener in the 12th minute. The defender hit a terribly tame backpass, which the United forward instantly latched onto and comfortably rounded Fraser Forster before rolling the ball through the goalkeeper’s leg into the net.
The circumstances surrounding the opening goal had barely sunk in for the visiting fans’, before defender Chris Smalling limped off, paving way for Evans to make his comeback since September 21.
Tadic and Mane began orchestrating a good spell for Southampton and when the former overhit a through ball to Pelle; warning signals were evident for United. Pelle then tested David de Gea on the turn from Tadic pass.
The hosts drew level right after half an hour, with Pelle finding himself in too much space inside the area following a sloppy pass from midfielder Marouane Fellaini; he rammed the ball in off the crossbar. Game On!
Van Gaal took time to miss up his formation a bit, introducing Ander Herrera for McNair, yet the 3-4-2-1 system seemed to have confused many of his players than enlighten. The Old Trafford club stuck to three at the back, but now with Michael Carrick dropping in alongside Evans and Marcos Rojo.
Both sides were contented to be leveled at half-time, deservedly so for Southampton.
The Saints got off to a better start in the second-half. Evans was lucky to be right on his guard to shield a sluggish Yoshida attempt.
The returning centre-back, who last week was only playing with the U-21s, carelessly lost possession few minutes later and an unmarked Shane Long had all the space to score from a Tadic cross, but forced a fine save from De Gea.
Pelle then fired over right in the face of goal after Rojo had conceded possession. After an hour of football, United were giving away more and more early Christmas freebies, while Southampton became as clueless as unnecessary in the final-third.
United’s lack of confidence was summed up when captain Rooney booted a corner straight out of play, more to the home crowds’ delight, all whose mockery were encapsulated in a combination of laugher and jeers.
United regained the lead against the run of play in the 71st minute, when Van Persie snuck in at the far post to steer through Forster’s legs Rooney’s deep-reaching free-kick.
The goal revamped United’s game, with Van Gaal’s re-awakened men pressing forward for a killer goal. Southampton broke back with Pelle forcing a superb one-handed save out of De Gea with a rasping shot.
Aside some booking for Mane- for a wild tackle on Van Persie- and Rooney- for an unpleasant appeal to referee Friend- as well as Southampton substitute Emmanuel Mayuka’s unrelenting struggle to impact on scores; there was not to be a dramatic end; hence, United once again claimed a remarkable victory.