Two Robin Van Persie goals were enough to swing last night’s Premier League match Manchester United’s way 2-1 at St Mary’s, as the battle for the remaining Champions League places takes shape, with the likelihood that Chelsea and Manchester City are about to disappear into the distance in the race for the title itself. United at least kept in touch near the top with a fifth straight win, albeit five points behind their City rivals and eight behind Jose Mourinho’s ‘no longer invincibles’, as they scraped into third and leapfrogged Southampton. West Ham hold an unlikely fourth spot and will no doubt be pinching themselves at present, with manager Sam Allardyce warning against complacency at least until into the New Year and seeing where they stand then.

The victory for United (despite a strong recent record against their opponents in the league) seemed highly unlikely as the game wore on, with Saints much the better side. Unlike their recent reversal against City, Southampton dominated the away side this time but were unable to show the clinical edge they were regularly showing in earlier games this season, especially in the 8-0 destruction of Sunderland. On the flip side, United fed off scraps and were in debt to an opportunistic piece of finishing from van Persie on 12 minutes, when he anticipated a ‘blind’ back pass from Jose Fonte and stepped in to beat Fraser Forster.

Saints deservedly equalised through Graziano Pelle on the half-hour mark and settled in to a rhythm that promised much better but could not capitalise on their possession and chances. RVP illustrated the value of having a top striker in the side when he slotted in his second with nineteen minutes remaining and United held on for all three points, despite a shot count of 15-3 in the home side’s favour. Louis van Gaal was not fooled by the victory, he knows that they still have plenty to do before they can be classed as genuine contenders for the top places, and despite the lack of style associated with the three points will at least have something to build on now. He will look to come through the hectic December programme in a similar position to that ‘enjoyed’ at present, with the January transfer window perhaps opening up further opportunities to strengthen in weaker areas such as the injury-plagued defensive positions.

As with many of the top sides, one wonders at times where United would be without the Dutchman’s abilities in front of goal, certainly closer to mid- table one feels. Of course, when you analyse the key influencers on the sides at the top of the league there is a case for suggesting that they are all indebted heavily to their main strikers for success at present. Chelsea are a great squad, but their early impetus has been provided by the prolific scoring of Diego Costa with 11 in the league and have to work noticeably harder for their wins when he is out of the side. City were almost single-handedly steered past Bayern Munich in their last Champions League game by the brilliant hat-trick from Sergio Aguero, and are rightly concerned at his latest injury that threatens their progression in that competition, besides their league momentum where he is the season’s top scorer with 14 so far . Even West Ham in fourth powered past Swansea at the weekend in main due to the re-born Andy Carroll and his aerial prowess that resulted in two goals for him. Arsenal are having a spluttering season thus far, but would be far worse off without Alexis Sanchez popping up at opportune moments with decisive goals along the way (nine in the league so far). For last year’s runners-up, Liverpool, the opposite is true, as the ‘stock’ of their injured striker Daniel Sturridge rises with every passing game he misses and that of the departed Luis Suarez has grown to astronomical proportions after more than thirty goals last season. 
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