Manchester United vs Southampton: Is there ever any excuse to lose 9-0?

The Red Devils hammered the Saints at Old Trafford following Alexandre Jankewitz’s red card in the second minute

Mark Critchley
Northern Football Correspondent
Wednesday 03 February 2021 08:14 GMT
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer- United didn't pounce on Liverpool's injury crisis

“The goals, especially the last five goals were too easy...”

When a manager is picking out “the last five goals” that his side conceded for special attention, it’s never a good sign. When he is doing so after a second 9-0 defeat in the space of less than 18 months, it is even worse.

After the Leicester City thrashing in October 2019, Southampton’s first-team squad donated their match salaries to the club’s foundation and assured supporters that there would never be a repeat.

Now, many of those same players can say they were not only responsible for the heaviest home defeat in Premier League history but the joint-heaviest away defeat too. Both, of course, have come on Ralph Hasenhuttl’s watch.

READ MORE: Premier League fixtures and table — all matches by date and kick-off time

“We lost again in a horrible way,” he admitted in his post-match press conference. “It hurts, we're sure that it hurts - me the most, I think.”

Equalling the worst defeat of the English top flight’s modern era once can be regarded as unfortunate, perhaps. To do so twice in consecutive seasons is not just careless, it is inexcusable.

Or is it? Hasenhuttl was in no mood to talk at length about what he had just witnessed at Old Trafford late on Tuesday night but he was quietly insistent that there were legitimate mitigating circumstances for the scale of Southampton’s defeat.

Saints were hammered by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side
Saints were hammered by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side (Getty)

Firstly, an injury crisis had deprived him of nine first team players, including at least four that would have started against Manchester United.

Southampton’s bench included two goalkeepers. Nathan Redmond was the only outfield reserve with any substantial top-flight experience. Daniel N’Lundulu, with 10 senior appearances at the ripe old age of 21, was the oldest and most experienced of the others.

“I couldn't help them from outside, the guys,” he explained later, the sense of desperation still there in the tone of his answer. “I had no alternatives, no players on the bench, no alternatives to defend better.”

READ MORE: How Southampton recovered from historic defeat by Leicester to earn their stripes under Ralph Hasenhuttl

This lack of options also compounded the misery of Alexandre Jankewitz’s red card 78 seconds into his second Premier League appearance and first-ever start.

It was the same story against Leicester of course, when Ryan Bertrand received a 12th-minute red card to open the floodgates, only this time the dismissal came even earlier and the injury crisis meant that there were no legitimate options to turn to.

James Ward-Prowse reacts as Saints take a beating at Old Trafford
James Ward-Prowse reacts as Saints take a beating at Old Trafford (Getty)

“One man down and 90 minutes can be long in the Premier League,” Hasenhuttl said after the final whistle. “I know that tomorrow, nobody will speak about that, like nobody spoke about the sending off in the first 9-0.”

Hasenhuttl did not pay as much attention to Che Adams’ narrowly disallowed consolation goal or Jan Bednarek’s controversial sending off as the evening’s television coverage - admitting that the Bednarek decision would have had especially no bearing on the result.

Both had a bearing on the scoreline though, with Bednarek’s sending off encouraging a brilliantly ruthless United to push for the record late on until they eventually landed on a number that carried a grim significance for their opponents.

And even if you believe all these factors sound like excuses on Hasenhuttl’s part, few would argue that the two 9-0s are consistent with the rest of his time at St Mary’s or the progress made since the first against Leicester.

Although they over-performed somewhat in the first half of this season and are now coming back down to earth, Southampton are still a good Premier League side with an excellent manager who has overachieved relative to the talent and resources at his disposal.

And this time, unlike after the first 9-0, Hasenhuttl and his players know they can overcome such an emphatic setback.

“This time is a completely different situation,” he insisted. “The team is a different one now and that's the reason why we’ve played a good season so far.

“It doesn’t change my opinion of the season we had so far. It's the same team that won against Liverpool one month ago. The only difference is now we have nine injured players and no alternatives.

“Do you want me to blame the young lads for not doing their job perfect? I don't think so.”

Is there ever any excuse to lose 9-0? No, and Hasenhuttl was not necessarily looking for one, but there are reasons behind every defeat as big as this.

Sometimes they are within a team’s control, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they point to a broken structure, a squad in need of a drastic overhaul or a manager out of their depth. Sometimes, they don’t.

Sometimes, a perfect storm gathers and everything goes spectacularly wrong. Southampton and Hasenhuttl can count themselves especially unlucky that everything has now gone spectacularly wrong twice.

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