Tactics writer Sam Tighe, from Bleacher Report, assesses the progression of Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard, and why the Dane's first goal for the club could prove a watershed moment in his Saints career...
Was it joy, or relief, running amock across Jannik Vestergaard’s face, as he peeled away from David De Gea’s net, fresh from burying a towering header that would earn Southampton a point against Manchester United?
You’d forgive him for either; they’d both be perfectly acceptable emotions when you consider both the moment and the long road he took to get there.
Saints fan were all too aware of it – as was the Great Dane – but mention to a more casual observer that Vestergaard’s 58th-minute header was his first goal of any kind for the club and you’d get a quizzical look in return.
Defender or not, how could it be that a man that size broke his duck on the south coast so late? As a converted striker, one who prides himself on being able to impact in both boxes, he’ll have been asking himself the same question.
Time and again Vestergaard has been denied by a stupendous save, the woodwork or a desperate block.
He’s been an absolute menace in the opposition penalty area since the moment he signed – his movements create waves of chaos that leave opponents scrambling – but the goal refused to materialise.
Game after game, narrow miss after narrow miss, the feeling prevailed: “It’s coming.” And so it did against Manchester United, at a truly pivotal time.
The point it earned lifted Saints to four from four games—a competitive tally in a division where, currently, eighth and 19th are separated by just two.
Vestergaard coupled the maiden strike with a commanding overall performance. So good it was, he might struggle to say which he’s more pleased with.
Manchester United represent one of the Premier League’s quickest and most dangerous attacks. The sight of Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Paul Pogba et al sprinting toward you would rattle many, but Vestergaard relished every second of it.
He rolled out the full defensive playbook: big headers in his own box (as well as theirs), important blocks, organised from set-pieces and even produced a few eye-popping tackles in high-risk areas you wouldn’t necessarily think he’s capable of – particularly given the speed he was up against.
sam tighehe's been an absolute menace in the penalty area since the moment he signed - his movements create waves of chaos that leave opponents scrambling.
One challenge in particular, a sliding effort in recovery to stop Rashford scampering through into the channel on the counter-attack, drew rapturous applause from the St Mary’s crowd. Rightly so.
Ralph Hasenhüttl will hope this match acts as a watershed moment for Vestergaard, whose 14-month Saints career has had its highs, but hasn’t been without its lows either.
He’s had a series of good runs or performances that have been ended by something unfortunate – dropped at the end of Mark Hughes’s reign, an ill-timed muscle strain, a ludicrously unlucky slip against Cardiff City – which have perhaps prevented him from building true momentum.
It’s frustrated him no doubt, but what’s kept him in the picture is his undoubted quality: physical enough to deal with the rigours of England’s top division, two-footed enough to open different angles with passes from the back, and, on August’s evidence, quicker than many will give him credit for.
Vestergaard’s search for consistency has mirrored his search for a first goal for the club: elusive, but not really his fault.
But the latter has arrived, finally, and it could well spark the former, acting as the turning point long craved.