'Matic is no Vidic' – Mourinho's conservatism costs Man Utd once again

It was yet another disappointing day for Manchester United as Jose Mourinho failed to inspire his team to victory away against Southampton

There is no denying Manchester United were affected by injury problems in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Southampton. The likes of Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly were all unavailable due to physical problems, while Marcos Rojo was not yet fit enough to start at St. Mary’s Stadium. It left Jose Mourinho with a genuine selection headache in defence.

A similar situation back in February 2016 prompted then manager Louis van Gaal to promote a certain Marcus Rashford from the club’s academy when United were short on attacking rather than defensive options for the Europa League encounter with Midtjylland.

The forward rewarded Van Gaal for the faith shown in him with a stellar performance as he scored twice in a 5-1 win at Old Trafford and he has since gone on to become one of the most exciting young attackers around in the game.

On Saturday, Mourinho found himself in a similar position to Van Gaal, but whereas his predecessor turned to youth, the Portuguese boss went for the conservative decision.

He opted to ignore United’s academy and change to a 5-3-2 formation with midfielders Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay at centre-back alongside Phil Jones rather than give a hot prospect such as Lee O’Connor or Luca Ercolani a chance to show what they can do.

“We only have one fit centre back,” Mourinho told BT Sport . “I would like to have Nemanja Vidic but no Vidic, only Nemanja Matic…”

And it quickly showed that Matic is no Vidic.

Some unconvincing defending from the former Chelsea midfielder eventually allowed Stuart Armstrong to open the scoring after just 13 minutes and Cedric Soares made things even worse for Mourinho’s men when he curled a stunning free kick into the top corner to make it 2-0.

It was not that Southampton were in such fine form in those opening 30 minutes, but it was United’s defensive vulnerability that made a good result seem like mission impossible at that point.

It was another remarkable selection decision from Mourinho that did pay off, however. Despite six goals in his last six Premier League outings, in-form attacker Anthony Martial had to settle for a spot on the bench, with Rashford getting the nod alongside Romelu Lukaku instead.

And it was the England international who helped United back into the game with two brilliant assists in the final 15 minutes of the first half. He first delivered the ball on a plate for Lukaku after shrugging off his direct opponent – the Belgian striker at last ending his 15+-hour goal drought – before setting up Ander Herrera five minutes before the half-time whistle after a superb run down the right.

But not even Rashford’s individual brilliance could guide the Manchester giants to the full three points as they failed to really trouble Southampton after the break in what was a rather lacklustre performance.

Nathan Redmond, meanwhile, caused the makeshift United defence all kinds of problems with his clever movement both on and off the ball, but there were no more goals to be seen in the second half.

United now find themselves a massive 16 points behind league leaders Manchester City after yet another disappointing result and we can safely say they are out of the title race after just 14 games. And if this weekend’s display is anything to go by, they could face an uphill battle to even make it into the top four and qualify for next year’s Champions League.

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