Man Utd Focus - Van Persie glosses over United deficiencies
Robin van Persie eradicated any doubt over his transfer to Old Trafford with a stunning late hat-trick that embodied the very spirit of the club he has joined. The traditions of Manchester United were brought to the fore in front of the ever-vociferous away support, yet there was the lingering feeling that the Dutchman's exploits had glossed over a less than satisfactory performance at St Mary's.
United started the game well, dictating play and controlling the ball with composure, but once they conceded to Rickie Lambert's header a quarter of an hour into the first half, their passing game disintegrated and the deficiencies in Sir Alex Ferguson's side were exposed. This United team has issues at the back in addition to the centre of midfield, which were highlighted by an average Southampton line-up.
Sunday's fixture was the first time that Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic had lined up together since last December, and there was rustiness in the partnership that requires attention. This contributed to the full backs being caught out of position for both of the Saints' headed goals, and highlighted another issue that is affecting United at the back.
Rafael da Silva is being given the opportunity to stake a claim to the right-back spot in the absence of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, and is showing promise. However, he needs to improve positionally, which he will be able to do alongside the accomplished pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic if they can regain their form of previous seasons.
Patrice Evra meanwhile is showing signs for concern, and struggled at times yesterday against Jason Puncheon. Despite an excellent last ditch tackle on Adam Lallana, the 31-year-old looked vulnerable, and some of United's supporters, despite a deep affection for a player that has fully invested in the club's history, fear that his powers have been on the decline for some time. Alexander Büttner has ostensibly been brought in to provide cover for the Frenchman, but could prove timely competition at left-back.
The much discussed central midfield issues were once again pivotal to United's performance, as the deposed champions failed to impose themselves on their opponents after an assured start to the game. It was only when Paul Scholes was introduced that Ferguson's team wrested back some control of possession, as they attempted to launch an onslaught that was slow and fractured in it's development.
When the Reds finally lit the blue touch paper, it was van Persie that provided the heroics, firstly putting away the rebound from a Ferdinand header that struck the post. The winner to seal his hat-trick was the forward's 100th Premier League goal in his new manager's 1000th Premier League game. Signing the 29-year-old was questioned in some quarters due to van Persie's age and patchy injury record, but in him, Ferguson bought arguably the finest striker in European football at the peak of his game.
The manager will be hoping that his latest star can keep up his momentum as van Persie's teammates attempt to bind themselves into a cohesive unit behind him. Finding the right combinations in midfield, along with tightening up at the back, would significantly cement United's title ambitions.
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