Jose Mourinho praised the influence of his central defensive pairing of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones as Manchester United resisted Southampton’s pressure throughout Saturday’s 1-0 victory at St Mary’s.
After Romelu Lukaku’s 20th-minute finish gave United the lead, they struggled to perform with the same fluent authority that has inspired their fine start to the season as Southampton significantly improved – albeit without creating an equaliser.
That they remained goalless owed as much to the hosts’ long-term struggles in the final third as the form of Bailly and Jones, which comes after the years of instability that followed the departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
United also spent £31million recruiting Victor Lindelof during the summer, amid the expectation that he would succeed Jones, who has since regularly started for England, and asked of their performances, Mourinho responded: “Very good.
“And also (substitute Chris) Smalling. We did for 20 minutes what the majority of the Premier League teams are doing, which is to play defensively with five at the back.
“Then, Southampton were strong. I felt the manager (Mauricio Pellegrino) enthusiastic, exciting, risking bringing on two strikers like (Manolo) Gabbiadini and (Charlie) Austin to play direct, and also in a style that isn’t normally their style.”
Saturday’s victory follows four others in the Premier League that have been by considerably wider margins, and Mourinho, who was dismissed late on for appearing to clash with fourth official Mike Jones, said: “It’s better to win 5-0 than 1-0. We wanted to win also 5-0.
“But it’s not always possible. We had opportunities in the first half to score the second goal and then the game is different.
“Lukaku and (Ander) Herrera, too, and if we’d done that I would have brought on (Antony) Martial and (Jesse) Lingard and go for a different result. But credit to Southampton and to Pellegrino.”
Southampton have so far failed to score in five of Pellegrino’s seven fixtures since his summer appointment as Claude Puel’s successor.
It was a lack of goals that contributed so much to Puel’s sacking, but Pellegrino, 45, said: “In general we controlled the game against a team who are really difficult to control, even when they are defending because on the counter-attack they are really good.
“They have pace and, in direct play, are really strong. But we did 90 per cent really well. Against this type of team you have to play really well, really close to ‘excellent’, to win.
“They realised we were playing well. The best teams in the world adapt their players to every single situation.”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp felt “sick” due to his side’s defending in Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup loss at Leicester.
And he was unlikely to feel much better after the Reds’ hard-fought 3-2 win against the same opposition in the Premier League on Saturday.
Here Press Association Sport assesses the Liverpool defence.
THE BEST FORM OF DEFENCE IS ATTACK
The old saying was true of Liverpool on a night when they continued to leak goals. It was the first time since 1965 the Reds have conceded nine or more goals from their opening three away games. They have conceded 10 – and it might have been more.
Liverpool’s defenders appear far more comfortable going forward. However, when the Reds attacked they were exposed to the counter and the pace of Jamie Vardy, in particular.
In four prior games this month, since August’s 4-0 win over Arsenal, Liverpool had conceded 10 goals. Five of those came at Manchester City and two at Leicester in the League Cup. But the Reds have now lost just one of their last eight Premier League away games after the victory over the Foxes.
Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were restored in the centre of defence, in a four-man backline with Joe Gomez and Alberto Moreno at full-back as Klopp made seven changes.
Yet still the sloppiness persists and Simon Mignolet is hardly a reassuring presence in goal. Plus, for all the qualities of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum, Liverpool do not have a midfield shield as selfless or physical as Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic, Chelsea’s Tiemoue Bakayoko, or Fernandinho of Manchester City.
PROBLEMS WITH PACE
Vardy’s pace was a potent attacking weapon when Leicester won the title, so it was hardly a secret. Matip, though, struggled time and again to keep up and was booked late in the first half for clumsily tripping the England striker. Vardy also caught Mignolet as he delayed over a clearance in one of a number of self-inflicted problems for the Reds.
Moreno gave the ball away to Riyad Mahrez 30 yards from goal and Okazaki won the ball in the air on one occasion, albeit he was offside, before Mignolet saved on to Vardy’s head, resulting in a goal, and then felled the England striker for a penalty which he saved.
The game showcased the best and worst of Mignolet: some fine saves and some woeful passing. The Belgium goalkeeper is clearly an outstanding shot-stopper and expert at facing penalties – he has saved seven of the 15 he has faced in the league since joining Liverpool in 2013 – but his team-mates will hardly be inspired by his performances when he is prone to errors time and again.
If Klopp drops Mignolet again, then surely his confidence will not recover. But stick with him and the errors are likely to continue. The Reds boss has a big decision to make.
Simon Mignolet saved Jamie Vardy’s penalty as a 3-2 victory saw Liverpool end a four-match winless run despite further defensive wobbles at Leicester.
Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho gave the visitors a 2-0 lead which was halved by Shinji Okazaki’s goal, where he appeared to impede Reds goalkeeper Mignolet.
Jordan Henderson restored the two-goal lead before Mignolet gifted Vardy a goal before saving a penalty which he had conceded for a foul on the striker.
Such a shame Coutinho didn’t bugger off to Barcelona 🙄
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) September 23, 2017
– Match of the Day presenter and former Leicester and Everton striker Gary Lineker
Coutinho. Showed his importance to the Reds by setting up Salah’s opener and scoring a sublime second.
Okazaki’s goal. Liverpool were comfortable at 2-0 but Okazaki’s goal was allowed to stand despite clearly obstructing Mignolet. It gave Leicester the momentum and meant the game was never safe for Liverpool.
Vardy has now scored six times in his last four Premier League appearances against Liverpool. Mignolet has saved seven of the 15 Premier League penalties he has faced since joining Liverpool in 2013.
Kasper Schmeichel: 6 (out of 10)
Danny Simpson: 6
Ben Chilwell: 6
Wes Morgan: 6
Harry Maguire: 5
Marc Albrighton: 6
Wilfred Ndidi: 7
Andy King: 6
Jamie Vardy: 7
Riyad Mahrez: 6
Shinji Okazaki: 7
Demarai Gray (for Mahrez, 61): 6
Kelechi Iheanacho (for Okazaki, 74): 6
Islam Slimani (for Albrighton, 80): 5
Simon Mignolet: 4
Joe Gomez: 5
Dejan Lovren: 5
Joel Matip: 5
Alberto Moreno: 5
Georginio Wijnaldum: 6
Jordan Henderson: 7
Emre Can: 6
Roberto Firmino: 5
Philippe Coutinho: 8
Mohamed Salah: 7
Daniel Sturridge (for Firmino, 64): 7
James Milner (for Can, 74): 6
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (for Coutinho, 79): 6
Bournemouth v Leicester (Premier League, September 30)
Spartak Moscow v Liverpool (Champions League, September 26)