90 minutes of soccer can be a long time when you lose. 1-0 is a narrow loss, 2-0 is a loss, 3-0 is a loss, 4-0 is a heavy loss, 5-0 is a loss, 6-0 is a cricket score, but 9-0 ? 9-0 is a massacre, especially when it happens twice in two seasons.
This is exactly the situation Southampton is in after being beaten by Leicester yesterday October and Manchester United last night.
However, both defeats are very different for various reasons. So let’s quickly go over both games again:
The Leicester whips
When Leicester City traveled to Southampton on Matchday 10 of the 2019/20 season, the Saints languished near the relegation zone on the 17th. They had only won two of their last nine games and lost five more.
Leicester, on the other hand, flew absolutely in third place after winning all but four games and drawing two of the others. Basically, the two sides were at opposite ends of the table and, consequently, in opposite spirits.
After a good start, Leicester opened the gate in the 10th minute. A few minutes later, Ryan Bertrand was sent off for a stupid challenge against Ayoze Pérez, and then the scorers’ sky opened. Leicester’s great men have wreaked havoc on the impoverished side of Southampton. Pérez scored a hat trick, Ben Chilwell scored once and set up two more. Harvey Barnes was also there (unfortunately he didn’t equalize on goal). 5-0 at halftime, 7-0 before the hour and 9-0 in stoppage time.
There were no excuses for the defeat – Southampton lost on merit. They only had two injuries to deal with, and none of them were star players. Yes, they lost a man early on, but there is no excuse to score nine goals for a Premier League team.
To see Ralph Hasenhüttl fetch the sack immediately afterwards would be understandable – even to be expected – but Southampton insisted on him. Both he and the players need immense recognition because even though they didn’t win the next three games, they turned things around. From the 18th matchday onwards they rose to 11th place with 13 wins from the 15th matchday onwards. It was a remarkable turning point, and it continued.
The Saints lost their first two games in 2020/21, but then turned around very quickly with only one loss and seven wins before the 13th matchday and climbed to the podium.
However, the situation had slowed down a bit since then and they went to the United game after three straight defeats. But by and large, absolutely no one expected them to do so well after the 9-0 win over Leicester.
The Manchester massacre
The pretext for Manchester United against Southampton was very negative from the Saints perspective. They had injured nine older players (three of whom were out against Aston Villa in the last half hour), giving some youths full debuts. United were second in the game but with no wins in their last two games they were undoubtedly very hungry.
Just 78 seconds later, Alex Jankewitz was sent off for an absolutely stupid and inexplicable challenge against Scott McTominay. Tactically, this was the greatest disaster possible.
Getting a red card is bad for any team, but it’s especially worse for Southampton, especially when you go up against Manchester United, as you’ll see below.
Manchester United are a team that do well in open matches and can play their way through teams quickly. Against low blocks, the Red Devils are not as good as Sheffield United has shown. Southampton, on the other hand, was transformed into a highly pressing team by Hasenhüttl. Low blocks aren’t exactly their thing, and when a man is down they can’t really push either.
This is how Southampton positioned itself at the start of the game:
Alex McCarthy kept his place in goal and Kayne Ramsay started in front of him for the second time, along with Jan Bednarek, Dale Stephens and Ryan Bertrand in the back-four. Moussa Djenepo, James Ward-Prowse, debutant Alex Jankewitz and Stuart Armstrong were in midfield, and Che Adams came 4-4-2 to Danny Ings.
After the red, Southampton moved to a 4: 4: 1 when Ings fell to the left of midfield and Armstrong was inside.
Due to the numerical disadvantage, Southampton could not use their usual high pressure press, so they withdrew 4: 4: 1 into their own half when they were not in possession.
However, their line of defense did not retreat to the edge of their box and remained relatively high, leaving open space. So a simple long ball was enough to unlock the saints and this was very easy to play as there was no press.
The last straw was Ings to the left of midfield. Obviously, as a striker, tracking isn’t one of his greatest strengths, so Aaron Wan-Bissaka had an absolute field day on the right. The fact that he had more touch than just three other players on the field tells you all you need to know about how much fun he must have been having.
As we saw in the last instance at Wan-Bissaka, United full-backs could push very far with fewer attackers to worry about. This was often facilitated by the winger falling back and in, pulling the broad midfielder away from Southampton. That’s exactly what Mason Greenwood is doing here to move Luke Shaw forward.
That move went through Shaw on the left, who pitched Greenwood to aid United’s second.
On the rare occasion that Southampton pushed on purpose (which only happened once or twice), they had to pay. Of course, they only tried that when the ball went far out because they lacked a central striker.
However, with a numerically impoverished side trying to squeeze a cross, it became far too easy for United to overload one side open before sending a cross field to the other. As Greenwood prepares to play a crossfield for Marcus Rashford (who is freer than the daily schoolchildren meals he promoted), six of Southampton’s nine outfielders are on the left wing.
Rashford then advanced on a whole prairie, and the move culminated in United’s fourth goal.
With the latitude problem seriously plaguing them (and after realizing the press was useless), Southampton switched systems at halftime.
Hasenhüttl decided that 5-4 was the way to go in the second half and asked Adams to fall to the right of midfield while Djenepo moved to the right full-back. With that, Southampton gave up all forms of pressing and fell deep into their own half.
The problem with this was that Ramsay (who appeared in the second division, mind you) had to switch to the unfamiliar role of the middle half. That ended exactly as you’d expect – United (and substitute Anthony Martial to be more precise) attacked him quite often in the second half and again profited heavily. In this particular case, Martial runs over the provisional center-back to reach the end of a Bruno Fernandes cross and score the 5-0.
Here’s another example of another problem facing Southampton: Adams is out of position because he was slow to withdraw from a counterattack situation. You can see he is not to the right of midfield, which allowed Fred (who had been transferred to left-back in the second half) to choose a pass he wished. His choice fell on Martial, who again attacked the space between Ramsay and Bednarek. The rest of the side was also not fully in position (which explains the space behind the defense). The Frenchman walked through the gate and when he tried to hit the goalkeeper, his true finishing instinct kicked in – he missed wide.
The second red card also came from such a situation – Martial ran back and forth between Ramsay and Bednarek, and since the young man failed to track him down, the Polish international tried to master one final challenge, which, just like on his team’s day, was not the one Fall had gone according to plan.
Southampton got a bit of Bednarect after that, so it’s best that we don’t look at anything else, just for the two brave Saints fans who may have the courage to click on it.
It’s easy to blame Hasenhüttl for playing several players out of position after the first red card and getting an expected result from them, but you have to keep in mind that he had nine injured players and as the Austrian coach himself said At the post-game press conference, he had no alternatives – no players on the bench, no alternatives to better defend.
As in the previous season, Southampton must pull together and find a way through this chaos, albeit with an exhausted squad. In the next two games they face Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, two teams that have disappointed so far this season but have been on the rise lately. This could prove telling for the Saints.
As for Manchester United, this win is sure to be a huge boost to their confidence, especially after losing to Sheffield United and drawing against Arsenal. Domestically, Everton, West Brom and Newcastle make it a relatively easy game plan for them, but amid that the Red Devils have a big Europa League draw against Real Sociedad. This run could easily determine their success or failure this season.
Statistics courtesy of Whoscored.com