Erik ten Hag believes Manchester United learned lessons from their bleak start to the season when Bruno Fernandes took a hard-fought 1-0 win over Southampton on Saturday.
Ten Hag’s team was at the bottom of the Premier League after losing their first two games against Brighton and Brentford.
But United have recovered from that embarrassing start and have won consecutive league wins for the first time since February.
Fernandes scored early in the second half with a controlled attack and the Portuguese midfielder’s first goal this season brought United to sixth place for the remainder of the weekend’s games.
“I think the players learned some lessons from Brentford. We were more compact on the long balls. Of course we were very happy,” said Ten Hag.
Ten Hag mentioned the same starting line-up that defeated Liverpool 2-1 on Monday, leaving the troubled star Cristiano Ronaldo and club captain Harry Maguire both on the bench.
Ronaldo, eager to leave Old Trafford before the transfer window closes on September 1, was largely anonymous when he came on in the final 20 minutes.
Casemiro helped United to victory when the Brazilian midfielder made his debut on a 10-minute comeback after his move from Real Madrid.
United fell far short of the intensity and quality that inspired their win against Liverpool.
But they showed the grit that was so lacking in the first two games as they kept Southampton at bay after Fernandes’ goal.
Ten Hag will be happy that Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez steadfastly took center stage and rewarded his decision to keep Maguire on the sidelines.
“At the beginning of the game we could have created more, but I was satisfied. It’s the start of the season, it’s tough. You have to fight and we did that today, so we were rewarded,” said Ten Hag.
“It was a fantastic ending. I am very happy for Bruno. We can improve that, that’s for sure. I still feel there is room for improvement, to get more control, but we’re not that far away.”
It took an incredible combination of excellent goalkeeping and defensive defense to stop United from taking the lead midway through the first half.
When Southampton failed to clear a cross, Gavin Bazunu had to scramble to block Anthony Elanga’s shot to the far post.
In the ensuing melee, Christian Eriksen looked certain to score, but Kyle Walker-Peters blocked his shot on the line before Fernandes saw his goal blocked by Armel Bella-Kochap.
Bella-Kochap should have made United pay for those misses when a corner fell to the Saints defender, but he somehow managed to shoot high into the stands from close range.
Che Adams couldn’t generate enough power to beat David De Gea after a perfectly timed run behind the flat-footed United defence.
Scott McTominay’s drive put Bazunu to the test early in the second half, while Bella-Kochap made a great tackle to stop Elanga as he prepared to shoot after going through the goal.
Although United were never dominant, they pulled off an impressive move to break the deadlock in the 55th minute.
A wave of passes went through Southampton’s midfield and Diogo Dalot curled a cross towards Fernandes, who led a fine volley past Bazunu from just inside the area.
Southampton pushed for the equaliser, but they were frustrated when a strong penalty appeal was rejected by VAR after McTominay acted when he challenged Adams to a high ball.
De Gea kept United’s slim lead with a reflex save of Joe Aribo’s header from close range, with Walker-Peters nodding the rebound.
Bella-Kochap fired over and Sekou Mara fired next to Southampton for their chance to deny United’s victory.