Giggs profits from fluid formation

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Manchester United 4 Southampton 1

There are people who visit Old Trafford and find the place overwhelming. They wallow in the history, gawp at the new North Stand and step with reverential care on the ground that Robson, Best, Edwards and Co elevated to near consecrated status. That is just the Southampton team for you - tourists go there too.

Quite what the Saints were thinking of when this match started is known only to them, but certainly they gave very little indication that their undivided attention was on the job of denying the home team points. No easy games in the Premiership? United could not have looked more comfortable if they had taken the field in old jumpers and slippers.

It took only eight minutes for this match to be decided and that is the generous view. Some would put the time limit on the tension at 16 seconds, the time it took Ryan Giggs to give United the lead.

Dave Merrington, the South-ampton manager, said he had spent time before the kick-off trying to relax his players, and such was his success he could put stress counsellers out of business. From the kick-off, a mistake gave the ball to Paul Scholes, who crossed to Eric Cantona, who in turn passed to Giggs. One crisp swing of the Welshman's left foot and it was 1-0.

Three minutes later, Richard Hall, who at least had the alibi of flu symptoms to set him apart from his comatose colleagues, passed straight to Giggs 35 yards out, who then drew Dave Beasant and chipped into the top of the net.

Scholes made it 3-0 after eight minutes and as David Beckham had crashed a shot against the bar in between the goals, you can imagine the state of Southampton. They were relaxed all right, relaxed as a pole-axed boxer.

Which left 80-odd minutes to survey United's latest manifestation, something that has been forced on Alex Ferguson by circumstance, but is sightly for all that. The loss of Andrei Kanchelskis originally had him scouring Europe for a right winger, but that search has petered out to an extent because of the outstanding form of Scholes.

United are currently employing a shape that is so fluid that it must be horrendous to identify, never mind counter. The cost of the 4-3-2-1 formation is Giggs having to move inward from his flank, but while right- backs might be offering prayers for that, centre-backs are welcoming the news like the abandonment of the offside law.

Which would add up to a potent brew if the swirling waves of red attacks were not frequently breaking up on the rock of Andy Cole's lack of confidence. Still, Ferguson must hope that Cole's 70th-minute header will instil in his pounds 7m striker the arrogance and sureness of his Newcastle days. The fate of the championship probably rests on it.

Goals: Giggs (1) 1-0; Giggs (3) 2-0; Scholes (8) 3-0; Cole (69) 4-0; Shipperley (85) 4-1.

Manchester United (4-3-2-1): Schmeichel; G Neville, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin (P Neville, h-t); Beckham, Butt, Giggs (Sharpe, 66); Scholes (McClair, 49), Cantona; Cole.

Southampton (4-4-2): Beasant; Dodd, Hall, Monkou, Benali; Hughes, Widdrington, Magilton, Heaney (Bennett, 57); Watson (Maddison, 57), Shipperley. Substitute not used: Grobbelaar (gk).

Referee: P Danson (Blaby).