United fell behind early to Southampton and then, having turned the game around in the second half, still needed a late winner to grab a dramatic 3-2 victory at home and move back into fourth place in the table.
Andreas Pereira scored a stunning goal and picked up an assist, while Romelu Lukaku plundered twice, as United pulled off a classic win. Here’s a look at the talking points.
ANDREAS PEREIRA FINALLY SHOWS HIS QUALITY
It’s been an up-and-down season for Pereira. He started and impressed in United’s season opener against Leicester City, but after being hooked at half-time in the next game, the disastrous loss against Brighton, Pereira had made only more three starts this season. In the most recent one, against Burnley, his error cost United a goal.
But he played well last week against Liverpool, despite having to be part of a defensive performance which usually highlights his weaknesses rather than his strengths.
On Saturday, the Belgium-born Brazil international delivered a superb display, scoring a wonderful equaliser with a long-range curler and then setting up Lukaku for United’s first go-ahead goal.
It helps that he played in a more natural position.
“Maybe we’ve found a better position for him than a No6, he’s more of an 8 or a 10”, Solskjaer said after the game, and on Saturday’s evidence, plus his poorer performances playing deeper in midfield earlier this season, it’s hard to argue.
When Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera are fit, it’s hard to see where Pereira can fit in Solskjaer’s starting XI. But if he can follow up this outing with one of similar quality against Paris Saint-Germain, he’ll give his manager a welcome selection headache.
53': Andreas Pereira scores— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) March 2, 2019
59': Andreas Pereira assists
The midfielder's turned the game on his head. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/b1y0iVRAsx
LUKAKU’S CONFIDENCE IS BACK
It’s not just that Lukaku has now scored four goals in his last two games, or that he has seven goals and two assists in 14 games under Solskjaer – five and two in eight starts.
It’s the nature of his play that shows just how much the confidence is flowing through the Belgian’s veins at the moment.
Last week, against Liverpool, he should have had an assist after an excellent slide rule pass put Jesse Lingard through on goal – a similar moment to the assist he did get against Arsenal last month, when he put Alexis Sanchez through. That sort of vision and deftness of touch hasn’t been the hallmark of Lukaku’s game during his time at United.
As for the goals, three of his four this week have come from his supposedly weaker right foot. And they’ve all been well-taken, too, curling finishes into the corner. Saturday’s winner was a right-footed shot from outside the box. Just the fact that he had the confidence to take it, plus the quality to convert, shows how much Lukaku is enjoying his game right now.
There was also a exchange of one-touch, near telepathic passes with Marcus Rashford that showed the two could blossom into a deadly partnership. If Pereira is giving Solskjaer a minor selection headache, Lukaku’s form should be giving the manager a much bigger one.
Romelu Lukaku this season:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) March 2, 2019
🧭 Only started 58% of PL games
😱 Overtook Didier Drogba in all-time PL top scorers list
📈 Scored double digits in the league for the 7th consecutive season
🔥 Averaged 0.6 goals per 90
🔴Man Utd’s top scorer in the league
Respect. 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/iLUVtRXeN7
SMILING SOLSKJAER SHOWING HIS TACTICAL CHOPS
Man Utd have now collected 32 points in the Premier League since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over as manager.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 2, 2019
At least five points more than any other team. 👏 pic.twitter.com/xbO0rGtikh
By now, the narrative that Solskjaer has simply put an arm around dejected players and brought smiles back to their faces should be consigned to the dustbin. There have been plenty of displays of his tactical acumen in his 16 games as United manager. And a manager who is continuing to have the best start in league history doesn’t achieve that just by smiling.
Saturday was a manager’s dream. With his side trailing 1-0, he brought on Diogo Dalot, who assisted Pereira’s equaliser. Then, with United chasing a winner having been pegged back to 2-2, Solskjaer called on the much-maligned Fred. The Brazilian duly set up Lukaku’s winner with a clever reverse pass. Assists from two substitutes – can a manager have a better game?
Solskjaer’s done an excellent job of both lifting and managing this squad, especially during the recent spate of injuries. Pereira and Fred should now walk into next week’s game against PSG full of confidence.
Meanwhile, United were 13, 11, and eight points behind Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal when Solskjaer took over. 12 games later, they’re above the latter two, and within three points of Spurs. The “anyone could do what Ole’s done” line of thinking has been debunked.
Romelu Lukaku came to the rescue for depleted Manchester United with his second-half brace in the rollercoaster 3-2 win against Southampton that featured a feast of outstanding goals.
French right-back Yan Valery produced a howitzer of a drive from 25 yards that flew through Spain goalkeeper David De Gea’s fingertips to give the visitors a 26th-minute lead. United’s response, after defenders Chris Smalling and Ashley Young were fortunate not to concede penalties, came after the interval.
Brazil midfielder Andres Pereira deftly curled in from 30 yards and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku artfully found the bottom corner to make it 2-1 before the hour mark. Ex-England Under-21 midfielder Andrew Ward-Prowse, however, produced a trademark free-kick to level things up on 75 minutes.
United needed a hero and Lukaky duly responded with only two minutes of regulation time left when he blasted a low shot home from the edge of the penalty box. There was also time for France superstar Paul Pogba to miss a spot-kick before the final whistle that heralded the hosts’ return to the top four.
Here are the United player ratings from Old Trafford:
MAN UNITED (4-3-1-2)
David De Gea 6: Spain No1 fell victim to two world-class, long-range strikes. Otherwise, had one save to make.
Ashley Young 5: Wildly charged at the ball, causing free-kick for Saints’ second. Ended mixed match at makeshift centre-back.
Chris Smalling 6: If video-assistant referee was present, would have incurred first-half penalty for a tug. Otherwise, was unruffled.
Victor Lindelof 7: Won more aerials (seven) than taller centre-back partner Smalling (six). Also relished building from defence.
Luke Shaw 7: Saints youth product was prominent in both halves, plus didn’t pick up booking that would have ruled him out at Arsenal.
Andreas Pereira 7: Mixed bag. A divine first Premier League goal since 2015/16 was staggeringly good, plus he got an assist for Lukaku’s first. He was, however, poor in possession (80 per cent) and nonexistent in the tackle (zero).
Scott McTominay 6: Started brightly and looked to be on course for another promising display. But then suffered a head knock and faded.
Paul Pogba 5: The France midfielder looks jaded – good job, in a way, he’s banned at Paris Saint-Germain. Took far too much time on the ball, missed an injury-time penalty and was booked.
Alexis Sanchez 4: Yet more evidence that is never going to happen for the Chile flop at Old Trafford. No key passes, shots or dribbles before injury forced his removal on 51 minutes. All three goals came after he was brought off.
Marcus Rashford 5: Was lively at Crystal Palace after injury, but was invisible on Saturday. Headed wastefully wide in second half.
Romelu Lukaku 8: More than made up for two early misses with two excellent second-half goals. Stroked it into the bottom corner for 2-1 then lashed in from the edge of the penalty area to make it 3-2. That’s four goals in two games.
5 – James Ward-Prowse has scored five Premier League goals this season, more than in any other campaign in the competition. Whipped.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 2, 2019
Diogo Dalot 7: Showed far more intent than Sanchez, producing an expert dribble and cross to tee up Rashford within moments of coming on.
Fred N/A: Came up with an assist for Lukaku’s clincher. Had little time to do much else.
Tahith Chong N/A: Netherlands youth international got a huge cheer from crowd when he won a late, late free-kick on his top-flight debut.
The former striker has won 12 of 15 matches since taking over in a caretaker capacity, and it increasingly appears to be a case of when, rather than if, his stint at United is turned into a full-time role.
With Solskjaer’s stock high at present, the club has used him to front their season ticket renewal adverts.
“I’ve done a photo shoot or a video shoot on season tickets, so I’m pleading for them to get their season tickets,” he said with a smile.
“If it’s me as a supporter or manager, I don’t know but they should still buy their season tickets because the club is going somewhere.”
Asked if it was strange to do promotional work when still only interim boss, he said: “It’ll be stranger to see yourself in the video if you’re not here! But, no, it’s not strange doing it.
“If my kids see a commercial with me in it and I’m back home in Norway, that’ll be strange probably.”
The 46-year-old has made his desire to remain clear and spoken to United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward about the players who should stay and go this summer.
“Yes, I have (spoken about the squad),” Solskjaer confirmed. “We’ve been discussing the future of the club.
“We did that before I had won two or three games and all this talk about if I should stay on or not.
“My contract is up in the summer but I still, as I’ve always done for Man United, just give 100 per cent and my best.
“You have to plan. Even if I’m not here, I still give my view on who I would like to see as a supporter.”
New signings will be more difficult to acquire if United fail to achieve Champions League qualification.
That looked likely with the side 11 points off the top four when Jose Mourinho was sacked in mid-December, only for the resurgence under Solskjaer to now leave them a point adrift.
Tottenham’s recent slip means third could also be within their grasp, with United preparing to take on Southampton at Old Trafford on Saturday.
“It’s important to look upwards,” Solskjaer said, after overseeing a 3-1 win at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
“Of course, the results have meant we can challenge Tottenham now for that spot. It’s us, Chelsea, Arsenal – we’re all chasing them.
“It’s going to be an exciting race and every single game is going to be very important. You need to make sure that you tip the balance in your way.
“I’m not a nervous guy. I need to relax, and I need to enjoy it. I think my players can see as well that I do enjoy this.
“They’ve got to understand that this is the best time of their lives playing here.
“These are the times Man United players step up, when the going gets tough.
“You sign up for challenges, you sign up to rise to those challenges when you’re at Man United.
“We’ve got Arsenal coming up, PSG away coming up, the big games. These are the periods and times that make them stay in the history of the club.”
History is not everything, though, and Solskjaer knows Champions League qualification is key to their summer business.
“All the players want to play Champions League,” he added ahead of Saturday’s match against Southampton.
“To play in the Champions League for Man United is an even bigger thing for many.
“We know that we cannot just live off our name and tradition and history.
“We want to attract good players that want to improve the players we have got here.”