Man United drop more points, Lukaku hurt in drab 0-0 vs. Southampton
MANCHESTER, England -- Some Manchester United fans will, at least, get what they want.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic out for a month and Romelu Lukaku expected to miss the next two games after suffering a head injury against Southampton, Jose Mourinho has been left with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial as his options at centre-forward.
A section of United supporters will tell you that having the pace of Rashford or Martial up front is no bad thing. They are likely to find out at Goodison Park on Monday whether or not they are right.
It is a blow for Mourinho. In his mind, he has two strikers in his squad -- Ibrahimovic and Lukaku -- and both are now sidelined with injury. He already feels his squad is stretched to its limit and losing two more players -- and in the same position -- presents a significant problem.
"Zlatan is one month out," he said after the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Saturday, United's third in a row in the Premier League.
"I don't know about Lukaku. Of course, you miss your striker and your target man. You only have two attacking players on the bench, Rashford and Martial and you lose one of them immediately.
"I wanted a third change late in the game and I didn't have a third attacking player so that's difficult."
Mourinho has lost options. But the inconvenient truth, though, is that neither Lukaku or Ibrahimovic have been playing well.
Lukaku's United career started with 11 goals in his first 10 games. But since, he has scored just four times in 20 games.
He lasted just 8 minutes against Southampton before being injured but the Belgian had already managed to miss one golden chance after heading Juan Mata's early cross over the bar.
Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, has not looked the same player since returning from a serious knee injury in October. He has scored once -- a good free kick against Bristol City -- but has rarely looked like adding to that tally.
Mourinho accepted at his news conference on Friday that the pair are "not in a good moment".
Lukaku, he said, needed a rest after playing every minute of the first 20 Premier League games of the season. It is unlikely he would have got one had he not suffered an injury.
Rashford and Martial offer something different. Instead of trying to hold up the ball and thriving on crosses into the box, both prefer to play on the shoulder of the last defender.
When it works, it can make United look faster and more fluid. There were flashes of it against Southampton. Rashford and Jesse Lingard linked up well in the first half. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, making his first start since Nov. 5, joined in occasionally but ultimately, he didn't do enough to convince Mourinho he should start again at Everton on New Year's Day.
Rashford might have had a goal had he been more ruthless in the box. That will have to improve if he is chosen to lead the line in Lukaku's absence.
It was Rashford who Mourinho turned to at the end of last season when Ibrahimovic's campaign was ended by a knee ligament injury. But in five starts as United's central striker in April and May, the 20-year-old scored just once.
His form in front of goal has improved this season and he already has nine, just two fewer than he managed in the whole of the previous campaign.
For Rashford, the injuries to Lukaku and Ibrahimovic presents a chance for an audition. He wants to play as a striker but, under Mourinho, has often found himself out wide.
Had Lukaku and Ibrahimovic stayed fit, it is likely he would have stayed there. But if he can go on a goalscoring run at centre-forward, he may convince Mourinho to change his mind.
The growing injury list may even earn 22-year-old James Wilson -- back scoring goals for the reserves -- a lifeline, more than two years after his last senior appearance.
Whenever Mourinho's injury problems have mounted, the 54-year-old has always stuck with the same message: "It is an opportunity for other players."
When Paul Pogba was sidelined with a hamstring injury, the beneficiaries were Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini. When Phil Jones and Eric Bailly were ruled out, Victor Lindelof stepped in.
Rashford -- and to a lesser extent Martial -- is the latest to be handed an unexpected opportunity. It is just what he, and plenty of United fans, have been waiting for.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.
Manchester United have had a difficult time in recent weeks and desperately needed a result against Southampton.
This lacklustre response in a 0-0 draw was not what Jose Mourinho would have wanted to see from his players.
United dominated possession but did very little with it. Having missed plenty of easy chances in the previous games United created next to nothing in this one.
United could have won it with a late chance but Paul Pogba stuck a leg out, from an offside position, to get a touch on a ball that might have been going in on its own.
A draw was a fair result though, with Southampton probably having the better chances but spending most of the game with all of their players behind the ball.
United didn't concede. Other than that, it would probably be scraping the barrel to find any real positives.
Jesse Lingard's good form continues but he couldn't make the decisive impact this time.
The players look exhausted and disinterested. There was no spark about them and they looked like they couldn't wait to get off the pitch.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was appalling. He gave away the ball pretty much every time he got it.
When Pogba doesn't play well, United don't play well, and he was poor for large chunks of today's game.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- Mourinho kept Mkhitaryan on the field for far too long and failed to come up with any solutions to Southampton's rigid tactics.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 6 -- Made a good stop at his near post from a free kick. Outstanding save at the start of the second half to deny what looked a certain goal.
DF Ashley Young, 6 -- Delivered a few decent balls in to the box. Came close to scoring with a free kick.
DF Victor Lindelof, 6 -- Good in the air and dealt well with everything that came his way, although was guilty of one dodgy clearance late on.
DF Phil Jones, 8 -- Made some excellent challenges to prevent Southampton opportunities. A solid performance from him.
DF Luke Shaw, 6 -- A decent showing from Shaw defensively, although he did leave his man free to get a cross in that should have resulted in a goal. His delivery was poor though, with pretty much every cross getting blocked.
MF Paul Pogba, 5 -- Played a few excellent passes but was quieter than usual. Didn't get involved anywhere near as much as needed. Denied United a goal when he redirected a goalbound attempt in from an offside position.
MF Nemanja Matic, 4 -- Too slow to release the ball too often. Had several long-range efforts on goal that were largely poor.
FW Juan Mata, 6 -- Delivered a good cross to Romelu Lukaku early on which should have resulted in a goal. Involved in lots of United's better moves.
FW Jesse Lingard, 7 -- Brought his usual energy to United's attack. Played some good balls forward. Looked at times to be the only player that wanted to win.
FW Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 2 -- Wasteful with a great opportunity for United on the counter. Gave the ball away every time he got it and was lucky to come back out for the second half. Continued to play as badly after the restart and was taken off with 25 minutes remaining, much to the relief of the Old Trafford crowd. Had one shot on target but it was an easy save.
FW Romelu Lukaku, NR -- Had one chance to score before being substituted with a head injury. He should have scored it.
FW Marcus Rashford, 6 -- Replaced Lukaku early on. Went on a few good runs but didn't have many chances.
FW Anthony Martial, 5 -- Came on for Mkhitaryan. Was more involved than the Armenian but didn't do enough either.
Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has said Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be out for one month with a "recurrence" of his knee injury.
Ibrahimovic was not included in the squad for United's 0-0 draw at home to Southampton on Saturday and Mourinho told the BBC after the game that the 36-year-old striker, who missed seven months before returning to action in November, is set for another spell on the sidelines.
"It's the same knee, it's the knee with an incredible problem," he said. "A -year-old man -- a lion, like you say he's a real lion -- but not easy and now he's had a little recurrence and one month out."
Romelu Lukaku also suffered a head injury during the game and, asked by BT Sport if that meant he only had Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as options at striker, he replied: "Yeah."
United host Derby County in the FA Cup on Friday, and then have 10 days off before hosting Stoke City. The Champions League round of 16 does not begin until Feb. 21 at Sevilla.
Mourinho refused to be drawn on whether he would need to reinforce the United squad in the January transfer window.
"I don't know," he said when asked if he needed to spend next month. "I really don't know, but I'm happy with the players' attitude, with the players' desire, and I have no complaints about my players."
Mourinho was also critical of referee Craig Pawson after the official decided against awarding a penalty when the ball made contact with Saints defender Maya Yoshida's hand.
Asked if the game had been frustrating for him, Mourinho replied: "Yeah, but I think also for Craig, because he's a fantastic referee and one of the most promising young referees in Europe also. Also bad for him."
He added on the BBC: "Of course we played enough to score goals, of course we missed easy chances, but I'm really unhappy with the penalty -- not with Craig's performance overall but with the penalty."
Speaking later at his news conference, he added: "I watch on the touchline and for me it looked very clear, but 50 metres distance, so I give the referee the benefit of the doubt.
"I know my players, so when I see [Juan] Mata hysterical I could understand immediately, no doubt, and then at half-time I watch it and it is a penalty like Rashford's at Leicester was a penalty, like [Ander] Herrera against [Manchester] City.
"It is unlucky, and I told that without any problem, the referees' performances in these matches, [Michael] Oliver against City, [Jon] Moss against Leicester and Pawson today, were good performances, so unlucky decisions for us that punished us."
Even Yoshida admitted he was fortunate not to concede a penalty, saying: "Sometimes we get decisions from the referee and sometimes we get bad luck from them. Today we got good luck."
Ashley Young, meanwhile, could potentially face retrospective action after he appeared to elbow Dusan Tadic in the stomach but Mourinho said he had "not yet" had a chance to view any footage of the incident.
After their third consecutive draw, United dropped into third place in the table behind Chelsea, who won 5-0 on Saturday, and Paul Pogba said they needed to rediscover their form.
"We wanted to win today, but we could only get the draw. We need to get back in the winning mentality, because it will be better for all of us," he told the BBC. "We didn't have the final pass today, and we had a penalty that wasn't given, and if we had that, and scored, it would've changed the game.
"The pressure is coming from behind, but we have to forget about everyone else, and focus on ourselves."
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MANCHESTER, England -- Three points from Manchester United's disappointing 0-0 draw with Southampton.
1. Man United drop more points
Manchester United's miserable Christmas period continued with Jose Mourinho's men booed off the pitch after they were held for the third successive league game against Southampton at Old Trafford. Having conceded a stoppage-time goal to draw 2-2 at Leicester a week ago, United were then held 2-2 at home by Burnley on Boxing Day before failing to score in a dismal 0-0 stalemate against Mauricio Pellegrino's team.
The omens were already bad for United with striker Romelu Lukaku forced off after just six minutes after a clash of heads with defender Wesley Hoedt. (But a bad day grew progressively worse for the home side as referee Craig Pawson ignored appeals for a first-half penalty after what looked like a handball by Maya Yoshida.
United, who struggled to create clear scoring chances, had a goal disallowed on 81 minutes when the offside Paul Pogba inexplicably guided Nemanja Matic's goal-bound effort over the line.
Southampton had chances of their own, with Shane Long missing the best of them when David de Gea denied the Ireland international with his legs in the second half. But United's failure to win again has now seen them drop to third in the table, just three points ahead of fourth-placed Liverpool.
Results and performance are now deteriorating under Mourinho, prompting the Old Trafford crowd to boo the team off at the final whistle. United now travel to Everton on New Year's Day hoping to salvage something from their festive fixture list.
2. Length of Lukaku's absence could define United's season
Romelu Lukaku had struck just four goals in 19 games for Manchester United before lining up against Southampton, but despite that recent poor form, the loss of the striker to an early head injury will severely test Jose Mourinho's attacking resources.
Lukaku was carried off on a stretcher while receiving oxygen after the clash of heads with Saints defender Hoedt, and although he was conscious at the time, the six minutes spent receiving treatment on the pitch suggested that the Belgium international's injury is not an insignificant one. He will almost certainly miss Monday's trip to former club Everton and perhaps Friday's FA Cup tie at home to Derby County, but if Lukaku's injury is serious enough to rule him out for a prolonged period, United will have problems.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has struggled for form since returning from a serious knee injury last month, and he didn't even make the substitutes' bench for this game. (After the match, Jose Mourinho said that Ibrahimovic would be out for a month.) So that leaves Mourinho with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial: two quick and hugely promising young forwards but ones who are prone to inconsistency.
Lukaku's overall return for United since his £90 million signing from Everton in the summer is 15 goals in 28 games, so he will be missed. Without him, Mourinho must find somebody to fill the gaps out wide if Martial and Rashford are used centrally. As for Ibrahimovic, he is not fit enough to lead the line right now, either.
If Lukaku faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Mourinho may be forced to buy, which will not be easy in January. But with Atletico Madrid out of the Champions League and Diego Simeone admitting Antoine Griezmann could leave, a January move for the France international might now appear on United's radar.
3. Shaw a rare positive for Mourinho
It has been a grim few weeks for Manchester United since losing their long unbeaten home record against Manchester City on Dec. 10, but Luke Shaw is finally giving Jose Mourinho something to be happy about in a month that has seen a Carabao Cup exit and countless points dropped.
Shaw has struggled to win Mourinho over from the day the manager arrived at Old Trafford 18 months, but Saturday's game was the first time he started successive Premier League games since September 2016. The "tough love" approach has been brutal at times for Shaw, with Mourinho often overlooking the former Southampton left-back for no stated reason.
Shaw appeared to be destined for the exit door in January, but defensive injuries have given him a chance -- maybe even a last chance -- to prove his worth, and he has now shone for United in two tricky home games against Burnley and his old club.
The full-back offers natural balance on the left and gives United much-needed help in an attacking sense. Defensively, while not the finished article, he is getting better and more consistent, therefore giving Mourinho every reason to select him.
If Shaw can convince Mourinho he can be trusted, he will save United an awful lot of money on a replacement.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_