Premier League | 30 December 2017 | Old Trafford | Attendance: 75,051
Manchester United ended 2017 with a third successive draw after a frustrating stalemate with Southampton at Old Trafford.
The Reds had a number of opportunities to find the elusive breakthrough with Romelu Lukaku heading over and Ashley Young firing a second half free-kick wide, before Paul Pogba had a goal disallowed late on for offside. It wasn’t meant to be for United, who made it a hat-trick of draws in the final fixtures of 2017.
Jose Mourinho made three changes from the draw with Burnley as Victor Lindelof, Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan returned to the starting XI in place of Marcos Rojo, Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Pre-match, Jose Mourinho insisted striker Lukaku was in need of a rest, but he looked sharp from the off and should have put United ahead after just four minutes. A pinpoint cross-field ball from Pogba found Juan Mata, whose expert cross was met by the towering Lukaku, but he headed over the crossbar when free inside the box.
Southampton should have punnished the Reds moments later as Sofiane Boufal’s pull-back found the arriving James Ward-Prowse, but David De Gea came to United’s rescue, saving expertly down low.
The game then saw a lengthy delay as Lukaku was taken off on a stretcher following a clash of heads with Wesley Hoedt. United’s no.9 looked in some discomfort and received oxygen as he was replaced by Rashford.
Luke Shaw, against his former club, swung a dangerous ball in from the left which narrowly evaded Rashford, before Ward-Prowse tested De Gea at the other end with a dangerous in-swinging free-kick which the Spaniard did well to punch away. From the resulting corner, a blistering counter-attack saw Mata feed Rashford who slipped in Mkhitaryan, but the Armenian’s cross evaded everyone.
United had a shout for a penalty as the ball struck Maya Yoshida on the forearm as he raced back to help snuff out Jesse Lingard, but referee Craig Pawson waved away the protests.
Hoedt then had a free header from another Saints corner, but he nodded wide before Rashford delayed on the ball at the other end and missed the opportunity to shoot, only for Mata to then fire straight at Alex McCarthy. The Reds would have gone in at the break in front if Lingard had not glanced Mkhitaryan’s left-wing cross wide of the post.
Shane Long had failed to score in his last 34 matches for club and country coming into this one and he should have really put that record to bed five minutes into the second half, but De Gea saved brilliantly with his feet after the Irishman had latched onto Ward-Prowse’s low cross.
Mkhitaryan had a curling effort saved down low before the Old Trafford came alive with the introduction of Anthony Martial, and it was the Frenchman’s direct running that won a free-kick for the Reds which saw Ashley Young curl narrowly wide, via a deflection, from 25 yards.
Dusan Tadic headed Boufal’s cross over before Martial caused panic at the other end, taking on three defenders, but again Rashford delayed his shot.
Southampton recently sold defender Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool for a world-record fee, but they were standing firm at the back nonetheless as the Reds fans became more and more frustrated.
The United faithful were on their feet seconds later as Pogba poked home Nemanja Matic’s effort in the box, but the goal was rightly ruled out for offside, before Lingard had two-half chances late on, which he could not convert.
Failure to beat Leicester, Burnley and now Southampton has left United fans in less than a festive mood, but the Reds must now look to re-discover the winning formula in 2018, starting with a trip to face Everton in a couple of days’ time.
United: De Gea; Young, Jones, Lindelof, Shaw; Matic, Pogba (c), Mata, Mkhitaryan (Martial 65); Lingard, Lukaku (Rashford 14).
Subs not used: Romero, Rojo, Blind, Tuanzebe, Herrera.
Booked: Lingard, Matic.
Southampton: McCarthy, Stephens, Yoshida (c), Hoedt, McQueen, Romeu, Højbjerg, Tadic (Lemina 81), Ward-Prowse, Boufal (Redmond 85), Long (Gabbiadini 79).
Subs not used: Forster, Pied, Bednarek, Davies.
Booked: Hojbjerg, Hoedt, Boufal, Ward-Prowse.