Solskjaer bemoans poor Man United first half performance

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Manchester United seemed to be holding up strong defensively early as Manchester City attacked with the ball in the first leg of the League Cup semifinal on Tuesday.

Then, Bernardo Silva unleashed a moment of brilliance in the 17th minute, and for the next 28 minutes, Man United crumbled as Man City built up a 3-0 halftime lead.

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“From their goal until half-time, that is the worst that we have played,” Man United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told Sky Sports. “From the first goal to half-time we just could not cope with that setback. We were running in between. The pressure didn’t work and we let them play. Our heads dropped. We just made decisions that we should not do.”

Whatever the gameplan was, it appeared that either the players were incapable of executing it, or they lacked the ability to do so. Man City players constantly found time and space to turn and attack the Man United defense, and Man United struggled to string more than a few passes together at a time in the first half.

The team, even with Paul Pogba fit and in the lineup, lacks a strong, vocal leader like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes or Gary Neville to get everyone on the same page while on the field. Instead, as Solskjaer mentioned, players are dropping their heads and not pressuring the ball, leading to more goals.

After likely lighting into his team at halftime, Solskjaer said he did get a response from his team.

“That needed sorting at half-time… Someone needed to take the responsibility and we did that in the second half,” Solskjaer said. “When you come in at half-time with that result then pride is one word that you speak about. Make sure you win the second half and you are in the tie. Of course, it’s a difficult task that we have got in front of us but that second half at least gives us something to hang on to. After that second half, we have got something that we believe in.”

Aston Villa fuming after Saints defeat

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SOUTHAMPTON — Saints battered Aston Villa on Saturday and to make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

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The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world. We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Here’s the scene from St Mary’s Stadium as Saints were relieved that they finally sealed the win in stoppage time, while Aston Villa were downbeat after another defeat and this time their manager Dean Smith was far from happy.


WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Southampton midfielder Will Smallbone, who turned 20 on Friday, made his Premier League debut and excelled in midfield with plenty of composed passes and he almost scored with a deflected shot which hit the post.

“Good celebration for my 20th birthday and then to get a start and a win today in the Premier League, yeah, it was good,” Smallbone said. “It was different. To play in the Premier League, it was a lot harder. I thought I handled it okay and did alright.”

Smallbone joins the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw in coming through their academy and being graduated to the first team.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special.”

Smallbone is a special player and slotted in seamlessly to Saints’ midfield on his debut and sprayed the ball around nicely.

Dean Smith, Aston Villa’s manager, was absolutely fuming..


MIXEDZONEOLOGY

Jack Grealish was downbeat as he got onto the Aston Villa team bus and his mood reflected that of every Villa player.

What was most surprising was that Grealish got off the team bus and went away in a private taxi after the game instead of going back with the rest of the players and coaching staff. John Terry appeared to do the same.

For most away games that happens and players make their own way home or visit other places for promotional events etc.

But given Smith’s strong words about Villa’s display, it was surprising to see Grealish leave his teammates for the trip home. Grealish and Pepe Reina looked very downbeat and those two are Villa’s only hopes of staying in the Premier League.


IN AND AROUND

Michal Obafemi and Nathan Redmond were hanging around the mixed zone and the likes of Conor Hourihane and Alex McCarthy were on their cell phones loitering around.

Southampton’s players were all very happy as this win all but secures their Premier League status for another season. Villa’s team bus was a pretty miserable place as Dean Smith got on with a look of despair. Next stop: League Cup final against Man City.

Villa boss Smith seethes at players ahead of League Cup Final

Aston Villa
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Aston Villa manager Dean Smith‘s team left him snarling after a 2-0 loss at Southampton on Saturday.

Villa remains a point above the drop zone after the loss, but could sit in the bottom three should Watford or West Ham get points later this match week.

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Out-attempted by a resounding 28-4, Smith wasn’t interested in hearing about the side’s League Cup Final date with Man City next.

“I am not bothered about the cup final next week, this was our cup final today and we were terrible,” Smith said, via the BBC. “Certainly some players have played themselves out of next week.”

Smith’s Villans should’ve carried more urgency given their next six PL fixtures. Leicester City and Chelsea start the run before a Newcastle pallet cleanser leads into Wolves, Liverpool, and Manchester United.

Instead, they were insipid.

“We never laid a glove on them in the first 20 minutes. I try to defend the players but today was not good enough. They were miles off it in the first half. A bit better in the second half. It was a game that could have been won but we didn’t create enough and didn’t defend enough. They were deserved winners.

“We can’t keep talking about getting good starts. Not starting well is a concern. We can’t play that bad again. It gave me a lot of heart seeing them against Tottenham but today was dreadful.

Villa are too talented to go down in theory, and the Midlands set will love its day at Wembley Stadium next weekend. But Smith’s men are still in a position to be competing in the Europa League and the Championship. Wild.

Here are a few more Smith thoughts, transmitted via our own Joe Prince-Wright at St. Mary’s.

Southampton outclass Aston Villa

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Southampton outclassed Aston Villa to win 2-0 at St Mary’s on Saturday.

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In-form Shane Long struck early and Stuart Armstrong sealed the win in the 94th minute as Villa never looked likely to draw level.

With the win Southampton move on to 34 points for the season and are in the race for European qualification. Villa are just one point above the drop zone.


3 things we learned

1. Saints almost safe: Ralph Hasenhuttl said he will start sorting out a new contract for himself and his players when they reach 36 points. They are now on 34 as they showed just enough class to get past Aston Villa. A clean sheet will delight Hasenhuttl as his team never really looked like conceding against a poor Villa outfit. Saints have played well in recent weeks without getting the points they deserved but on Saturday they dug deep to grab all three points. With a favorable run of games coming up, Saints are finally looking up the table.

2. Sky is the limit for Djenepo: He is one of the most exciting players to watch as the Mali international dribbles and wriggles his way towards goal. He could have scored a couple but set up Long’s goal and his potential is limitless. He is still just 21 years old and has a huge future in the game.

3. Reina, Grealish are Villa’s big hopes: Jack Grealish did his best to get Villa going, as he has done all season, but he had no real hope from his teammates as Villa were pretty wretched. Late on they chucked everything at Saints but even then they couldn’t break through. Pepe Reina made several fine stops from Southampton’s players at one end, even though his loose passing at the back put them under severe pressure. Villa head to Wembley next weekend to play in the League Cup final against Man City and that is a free-hit. Their main aim is to stay in the Premier League and they are now just one point off the bottom three.

Man of the Match: Stuart Armstrong – He finished off his lung-bursting run in the 94th minute to slot home Saints’ second and the Scotsman was tireless in linking together midfield and attack. Long and Ings set the tempo and Armstrong and Djenepo back them up so well.


Southampton almost took the lead early on as Will Smallbone, making his Premier League debut, saw his shot deflect onto the post and out.

The hosts did take the lead soon after as great work from Moussa Djenepo down the left saw him cross for Long who bundled home the ball. VAR checked the goal for handball but it stood.

Saints continued to dominate as Ryan Bertrand‘s header set up Ings who bundled his way through on goal but Pepe Reina produced a top save to deny him, then Djenepo fired over from Long’s cross.

Villa did improve a little as half time approached with Mbwana Samatta scoring from an offside position and Grealish trying to get on the ball as much as he could.

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Jack Stephens flicked just over from a superb Ryan Bertrand free kick and then Stuart Armstrong rounded Reina but sent his shot into the side-netting.

Reina denied Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s volley at one end while at the other Samatta’s deflected shot looped just over.

Substitute Che Adams fired just wide late on as Southampton were a threat on the break as Villa poured forward in search of an equalizer.

A frantic finish saw Adams have a shot cleared off the line at one end then Villa flashed a shot wide at the other. Reina then came up for a late corner kick and Saints cleared, leading to a wonderful ball for Adams who set up Armstrong to slot home and send St Mary’s wild.

Wasteful Sheffield United splits points with Brighton

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Sheffield United failed to find the finishing touch more than once in a 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Brighton and Hove Albion at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

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Enda Stevens gave the Blades a lead with a delightful goal, but Neal Maupay quickly answered for the visitors.

Sheffield United improves to 40 points, behind fifth-place Spurs on goal differential.

Brighton’s 10th draw of the season pulls it four points clear of the bottom three.

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Three things we learned

1. Blades fail to take advantage of Spurs stumble: If Chris Wilder‘s men fail to qualify for Europa, let alone the Champions League, they will point to results like this one. The hosts had all of the ball and gave up just one big chance, but switched off on one set piece and only collected a single point.

2. Misfiring forwards don’t help the cause: While Blades did have plenty of possession, they managed a single shot on target between starting forward Oli McBurnie and Billy Sharp, as well as substitute David McGoldrick.

3. Norwood impresses in the center: Well-traveled Oliver Norwood sprayed the ball all over the pitch on Saturday. Norwood had 100 touches for the hosts while completing seven of 14 crosses and 12 of 18 long balls. Despite all the big launches, he passed at 88 percent in the center of the park.


The Blades opened the scoring in the 26th minute as Stevens smashed a clinical shot home after a clever short corner routine.

Brighton answered when Lewis Dunk flicked a free kick onto the path of Maupay for 1-1.

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Stevens would only last to halftime thanks to injury.

Mat Ryan and his defenders needed to come up big several times in the second half, including an 88th-minute scramble in the heart of his box.,