José Mourinho believed the failure of Craig Pawson, the referee, to award a penalty for a Maya Yoshida handball on 32 minutes was crucial as Manchester United were again unable to claim victory. The contest ended in a third consecutive draw for Mourinho’s side, meaning they have dropped six points out of the last nine.
Yet the manager also pointed to further penalty claims in the 2-2 results with Leicester City and Burnley as reasons why they did not win those matches. The bottom line is, though, that United have slumped to third position and will be 17 points behind Manchester City should their rivals defeat Crystal Palace on Sunday.
The Portuguese’s problems are further deepened by the prospect of losing his top scorer, Romelu Lukaku, for two matches because of a ninth-minute clash of heads with Wesley Hoedt. If the striker is concussed, Premier League return-to-play guidelines stipulate he cannot return until a minimum of six days have elapsed.
Of the penalty claim, Mourinho said: “I watched on the touchline and it looked for me very clear but there was 50m distance so I [at first] give the referee the benefit of the doubt. I know my players so when I see people like [Juan] Mata almost in hysterics I know, no doubt, and then at half-time I watch it.
“It is a penalty like [Marcus] Rashford against Leicester, [Ander] Herrera against City. [Jonathan] Moss, [Michael] Oliver and Craig tonight are good referees. So the referees’ performances in these matches were good – these were unlucky decisions that punished us.”
United are at Everton on New Year’s Day and then host Derby County on Friday in the FA Cup. The manager fears he will have to prepare for both games without Lukaku.
“I don’t know [how serious it is],” he said. “I know that normally bad news arrives immediately and bad news didn’t arrive but to leave the pitch the way he did, we don’t think twice to make that decision immediately, because there is a problem not just for today but the next two matches I would say for sure.”
There was further bad news for Mourinho with Zlatan Ibrahimovic ruled out for a month after suffering a setback in his recovery from a serious knee injury. “Zlatan is out for a month. It’s the same knee,” he said.
“It’s an incredible problem, a 37-year-old man, a lion like he says, a real lion, but it’s not easy. Now he had a little recurrence and one month out.”
Ashley Young could also face a retrospective ban after seemingly elbowing Dusan Tadic just after the hour. As Pawson did not see the incident the Football Association could rule on it as early as New Year’s Eve – in time for Young to miss the Everton trip if he is found guilty.
Southampton’s manager, Mauricio Pellegrino, said he did not see the incident. “I haven’t seen the replay but it is difficult for the referee to see in one second what happened in all different places … I have to respect the decision.” United’s onfield issue is that their early-season spark has gone and they now seem worryingly sedated. Here again they could not break Saints down – Mourinho’s side won countless corners and hogged possession but lacked creativity in the final third.
Yet the manager said: “I think we played [well] enough to win with all the difficulties. We started the game and we lose the striker [Lukaku]. We lose one of the only two changes I have on the bench to change in attacking areas, leaving just one for the rest of the 90 minutes – I have to bring on Rashford to play all 90 minutes when he clearly needs a bit of rest.
“Then a very good referee, one of the most promising young referees in Europe, had a very bad decision that punished us and then the game was about us trying and missing some important chances and always trying to create and play. And them trying to create a chance in isolated counterattacks. They had one very good chance that David [de Gea] saved and we kept trying with what we have.”
That opportunity came just before Lukaku’s injury. Sofiane Boufal made the right byline and pulled the ball back. A Luke Shaw mistake teed it up for James Ward-Prowse and, after De Gea made a fine stop, the lingering Boufal was adjudged offside.
United could have done without a likely goal of their own being chalked off because of a needless offside but the otherwise anonymous Paul Pogba added just that as the contest neared its end. Nemanja Matic’s shot appeared to have beaten Alex McCarthy, who was making his Premier League debut for Saints after Fraser Forster was dropped. Pogba stretched and helped it home, however, and the goal was chalked off.
Asked if McCarthy is now his No1, Pellegrino said: “In football nothing is fixed. Everything is changing all the time. The reality today will change tomorrow. I try to use the moment of the player and the player I think is better I try to give the opportunity. After they have to show on the pitch.”
This is what United have to start doing – upping their performance on each and every game day.
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