SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – It seemingly takes a sleepy start to a game to jolt Manchester United’s players into action these days.
Their latest stirring comeback came at Southampton on Saturday.
Trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes against a team without a win in three months, United recovered to earn a 2-2 draw, a result that leaves Jose Mourinho’s side 16 points off the lead in the English Premier League after just 14 games.
That lead was extended by Manchester City, which beat Bournemouth 3-1 to go five points clear of second-place Liverpool.
Mourinho joked recently that United’s slow starts are causing his hair to turn white. There was the 3-2 win over Newcastle in early October from 2-0 down after 10 minutes, which might have saved Mourinho’s job; the 2-1 win at Bournemouth in early November after going behind after 11 minutes; the comebacks, too, against Chelsea and also Juventus in the Champions League.
On Saturday, perhaps it was no surprise United struggled early on with Mourinho reacting to a crisis at center back by fielding a back three featuring center midfielders Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay.
“I’m always confident but always doubtful at the same time because we don’t start well many times,” Mourinho said. “Today we had a reason for the fragility.”
Mourinho also said United lacked “mad dogs” in midfield to press opponents.
“That’s the people who are aggressive on the ball, fight hard to recover the ball,” he said. “It’s about that appetite, that fire that you have.”
Stuart Armstrong drove home an angled finish for Southampton’s opening goal in the 13th, and Cedric Soares curled a free kick into the top corner for 2-0.
That sparked what is fast becoming a trademark recovery from United.
Romelu Lukaku ran onto a pass from Marcus Rashford to shoot high into the net in the 33rd for his first goal for United since Sept. 15. More impressive work from Rashford led to the second goal, with the striker crossing for Ander Herrera to flick in deftly at the near post.
In the race for a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League, which might be a minimum requirement for Mourinho to stay in his job, United is six points behind fourth-place Chelsea, whose game in hand is against Fulham on Sunday.
For Man City, Raheem Sterling became the first player to score in his first six Premier League appearances against a single opponent when he put City 2-1 up from close range at Etihad Stadium. Ilkay Gundogan made sure of maximum points in the 79th for a City side which didn’t find its groove until the final stage.
City has won 12 of its 14 league games.
Elsewhere, Jamie Vardy and James Maddison scored for Leicester in a 2-0 win over Watford.
Crystal Palace ended an eight-game winless run in beating third-to-last Burnley 2-0 to move three points clear of the relegation zone.
West Ham beat Newcastle 3-0 to stop their opponents’ win streak at three, while Brighton earned a 2-1 win at 10-man Huddersfield.