Belfast Telegraph

Southampton rue lack of finishing touch to match Romelu Lukaku prowess

Maya Yoshida has called on Southampton to show the kind of clinical edge displayed by Romelu Lukaku in Manchester United's victory at St Mary's.

A new season and change in management has yet to bring around a change of fortunes for Southampton, with the team struggling for goals and home wins under Claude Puel's successor Mauricio Pellegrino.

Saturday's 1-0 defeat to United means Southampton have already lost 11 top-flight matches in 2017 - as many as they did in the whole of 2016 - and have failed to score in eight of their last nine Premier League matches on home turf.

A meek first-half display was followed by United's toughest second period of the season, yet Saints were unable to translate pressure into goals.

"Especially in the second half we dominated a lot," defender Yoshida said. "They made a few chances, but, playing against a top team, the small detail makes a big difference.

"It costs a lot. It's really difficult to accept but that is why they are top of the table. Since the end of the season we couldn't score enough, that's the problem I think.

"We have to be more clinical for sure but defensively I think we did much better than last season. So the way we are going is not wrong I think."

Lukaku's first-half effort was the difference for United, with the striker shrugging off Southampton's defensive attention to get away a header that Fraser Forster could only push back into his path to score.

"Really tough," Yoshida said of facing Belgian Lukaku. "If they put the ball in the penalty box, it is really difficult to stop him. That is why we have to avoid - we were pushing up and trying to take him away.

"Most of the time we could do it. I think one or two times we couldn't do that and then he scored. That is why he has scored so much - he is really clinical. They had a few chances, maybe two chances and they score.

"That is kind of the difference between Southampton and Manchester United, but if we can play like this against teams in the top, hopefully we can step up against the teams in the middle."

While United's attacking options are on another level, Saints' defensive depth certainly look impressive.

Yoshida lined up alongside Holland international Wesley Hoedt on Saturday, with Virgil van Dijk on the bench and Jack Stephens, so impressive this year, not even in the squad.

"It's really tough, I understand," the Japan international said on the battle for a centre-back role.

"Virgil is one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League.

"I have to keep strong in my performance to the manager, the fans, get a result for the team. It's only the things I can do. I just focus on myself and playing well.

"(With) my experience in the last couple of years, I am pretty sure that kind of pressure makes me stronger.

"Even Jack Stephens was not involved in the squad. That's the kind of really high competition we have in Southampton."

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