Sluggish United draws 3rd straight game, Lukaku carried off
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was under scrutiny for the first time this season after the team dropped further out of Premier League title contention with a 0-0 draw at home to Southampton on Saturday.
With its third straight draw over the busy Christmas period, United slipped to third place and was 14 points behind leader Manchester City having played a game more.
Boos rang around Old Trafford at the final whistle and former players questioned United’s players’ attitude and Mourinho’s ability to get the best out of his team.
Troublingly for the Portuguese coach, United also has a striker shortage in the immediate future after Romelu Lukaku was carried off on a stretcher after a clash of heads in the first half against Southampton. Mourinho later said back-up striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be out for a month with a knee injury
Mourinho’s replies were terse in his post-match interviews, with United’s coach focusing his unhappiness on referee Craig Pawson’s failure to award a penalty for a handball against Southampton defender Maya Yoshida.
The pressure is ramping up on United and Mourinho ahead of a match against Everton on Monday. United’s other results over Christmas are 2-2 draws against Leicester and Burnley, and its main task might now be holding onto a place in the top four with Liverpool three points back in fourth.
“The pressure is coming from behind,” United midfielder Paul Pogba said, “but we have to forget about everyone else and focus on ourselves.”
United took a while to regroup after losing Lukaku and struggled to open up a visiting defense that produced an embarrassing display in conceding five goals against Tottenham four days earlier.
Lukaku fell to the ground when Southampton defender Wesley Hoedt’s head went into the back of the striker’s head in an aerial challenge. After a break of at least five minutes, Lukaku was carried off to applause from both sets of fans.
“When you see a player leave the pitch like he did, it is usually two games at least,” Mourinho said.
Marcus Rashford was sent on as a replacement but his final ball proved as poor as his teammates, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan — back in the starting lineup for the first time since Nov. 5 — having a poor game.
On the occasion Mkhitaryan did deliver a good cross, Jesse Lingard headed narrowly wide. Lingard was then livid after flicking the ball up and seeing it strike the arm of Yoshida, only for the referee to say play on.
At the other end, James Ward-Prowse forced David de Gea into a save from a free kick and an unmarked Hoedt headed wide following a corner. Shane Long looked set to end a goal drought stretching back to February early in the second half, but De Gea saved with his feet.
In the final stages, Pogba tapped the ball into the net from close range after a goalmouth scramble, but the flag was raised for offside. If Pogba hadn’t applied the touch, the ball might have been heading in anyway.
“That is not United,” former United midfielder Gordon Hill tweeted after the match. “I don’t care what people say. Horrible.”