Manchester United 9–0 Southampton: Five Biggest Questions
United’s goal-fest at Old Trafford provides another embarrassing night for Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Southampton
By: Maxwell Argento
1. What was Alex Jankewitz thinking?
Unfortunately for the teenager, not much.
The 19 year-old midfielder was handed his first full start in the Premier League on one of the grandest stages in world football against a top-tier side, and lasted all of 79 seconds before a reckless challenge on Scott McTominay resulted in his dismissal from the contest. The red card forced Southampton to throw their game plan out the window, and you could tell watching the game that the Saints were far less comfortable sitting behind the ball with 10 men than they would’ve been engaging in their normal high-pressing strategy with 11.
The hope for Jankewitz is that this moment is used as a learning opportunity, and that he comes out on the other side better for it. I know the feeling of wanting so badly to make a positive impression during a game that you get out of control, but I can’t possibly imagine doing so under the bright lights of Old Trafford. Damn you, adrenaline.
2. Do Manchester United boast the best fullback partnership in the Premier League?
On current form, it sure looks like it.
The sending-off of Jankewitz meant that Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were granted even more space on the flanks for United in attacking areas than originally expected, and their ruthlessness was what stirred the drink for United all night. The duo even linked up on the scoresheet directly, as Wan-Bissaka rewarded Shaw’s brilliant vision and passing acumen for the first goal of the contest by touching the left back’s delivery goalward, taking advantage of the Saint’s lack of numbers in defense.
Shaw, who has clearly been pushed by the summer arrival of Alex Telles, also assisted on Cavani’s headed goal and was rewarded by being taken off at half-time, his work having been done. On the other flank Wan-Bissaka played all 90 minutes, and is slowly developing the offensive attributes that, when matched with his world-class tackling abilities, will make him one of the better right backs on the continent.
In matches where opponents clog the middle of the park in an attempt to nullify the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, Shaw and Wan-Bissaka (pictured above with Fernandes) will be required to continue to provide consistent end-product for the likes of Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. If they can, the list of solutions for stopping United from scoring will look even shorter than it does currently.
3. Could Bruno Fernandes possibly be any more impactful?
United fans will hope that the answer to my rhetorical question is a resounding yes.
Another match in the books for the Portuguese talisman means another instance of providing goals and/or assists for his club, this time both. One goal (via the penalty spot) and two assists against the Saints gives him 12 goals and nine assists respectively for his 2020–21 Premier League campaign.
Beyond his penchant for providing end-product, the most impressive thing to me about Bruno since donning the red of United is the fact that he never goes missing during a match. Whether it’s by getting stuck into a tackle or directing his teammates on the pitch, he is Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s constant source of verve and tenacity. Having a player so reliable in the heart of the midfield compensates for the inconsistent nature of the performances from players like Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood, and his tying together of the game for United with the ball at his feet is undeniable.
At this pace Bruno is not only going to win PFA Player of the Year for this season going away, but should find himself on the final podium for the Ballon D’Or Award.
4. Has Ralph Hasenhüttl found his cursed scoreline?
The 9–0 thrashing his team received at the hands of Leicester City last year was the obvious low point of their season, and was the catalyst for them improving steadily and surely into the squad we have seen come into form in recent months. No one would have expected his club to sustain the same exact result the very next season, and the response he hopes to elicit from his players this time around will come into sharper focus.
One train of thought suggests that he can take the approach of minimizing the result, shrugging it off by saying something to the effect of “a loss is a loss”. After seeing his temperament in his post-match presser on the pitch, I suggest he will react the opposite. I don’t doubt Hasenhüttl’s ability to coach quality football, but having to help his players to climb this unique mountain once again is going to test his mettle to the nth degree.
Ralph will surely be asking himself why the scoreline that gives him nightmares couldn’t be something more tasteful like 4–0 instead of nine, but such is life in England’s elite division.
5. Does this result effect the complexion of the Premier League title race?
Manchester City fans will be happy to hear that I don’t think it does, for three reasons.
One…United could’ve scored 18 goals against the Saints, but it’s still only three points gained, and City are still even with them on points in the table with 44, despite having two massive games in hand.
Two…Several moments involving Che Adams for Southampton at the United goal-mouth show that United still have things to improve on defensively, and are still susceptible to moments like we saw against Sheffield United a handful of matches ago. The attacking talent present in the squad is inarguable, but they don’t come close to defending their goal with the consistency that they put the ball in the net, which may identify itself as their Achilles’ Heel once the critical juncture of the league calendar emerges.
Three…the rigors of the Europa League, which is a competition Solskjær will surely want to go far in in search of tangible silverware, will cause an even higher degree of fixture congestion for United than they have already experienced. Thankfully the manager can call upon his deep squad, but the travel commitment and physical toll that playing Thursday nights in Europe will have on his players is proven.
I told you to stamp in permanent ink the fact that City will win the title, and I am not backing off of it, even after United’s ruthless performance.