Manchester United ended their 2013/14 season in seventh place, their lowest ever finish in the Premier League era. This was a year to forget for United fans, and their final performance of the season was nothing memorable. United traveled to Southampton knowing that they needed to win to qualify for the Europa League. However, things did not go according to plan and United had to fight back from Rickie Lambert’s first-half goal in order to secure a point.
United looked sluggish in the first-half, they barely managed to offer any attacking threat, and Southampton dominated possession, with Adam Lallana creating several opportunities, although his teammates were unable to capitalize on them. Whenever United had possession, Southampton put them under a lot of pressure, and won the ball back very quickly. United were unable to create any meaningful chances and many attacks broke down due to Robin van Persie being caught offside. In the 28th minute,
Southampton’s dominance was rewarded, although Lambert scored under slightly controversial circumstances.
Lambert slotted a beautiful shot past David de Gea, but Manchester United felt that the referee, Mike Dean, should have given a freekick because of a foul that occurred in the build-up to the goal. While the Southampton players celebrated, the United players swarmed Dean because he missed Lambert’s elbow on Nemanja Vidic, who was making his final appearance as a United player. Vidic was left on the ground bleeding, as Lambert beat Rio Ferdinand and slotted the ball into de Gea’s near post. United looked flat until this point, and were unable to create any chances before the first-half ended.
In the second-half Ryan Giggs replaced Shinji Kagawa with Michael Carrick. Kagawa had been anonymous in the first-half, and bringing on Carrick gave United more composure and they played better in the second-half. They still struggled to create meaningful opportunities in the early minutes, but United looked more assured in possession. Southampton’s lead lasted nine minutes in the second-half, before Juan Mata equalized with a beautiful freekick.
In the 54th minute, Victor Wanyama brought Danny Welbeck down on the edge of the box, and Mata took full advantage of the opportunity. Mata curled the ball into the top corner from the freekick, and it was a beautiful goal. He managed to get the ball over the wall and Artur Boruc, the Southampton goalkeeper, didn’t even move. United knew that they needed to win the game in order to qualify for the Europa league, but they did not do enough throughout this
game to secure the win.
Overall a draw was the right result. After a terrible first-half, United were the better side in the second-half, although both teams had opportunities to win the game. Welbeck had several good opportunities to score the winner, heading the ball over from six-yards out, and skying a shot in the closing stages of the game, despite doing brilliantly to get the chance. Neither side did enough to win the game, and the draw means that United end the season in seventh, 22 points behind champions, Manchester City.
Louis van Gaal is expected to be announced as United’s manager next week, and his first task will be rebuilding the squad so that this season was a one-off. Next season will be the first season that United will not be playing in Europe for a quarter of a century. Van Gaal will not have the distraction of the Europa league, so he will have to deal with United’s fans expecting a strong performance in the league.