Wednesday 3 February 2021

Nine, nine, nine as records tumble on historic night

 Just when you thought you had just about seen it all, the 2020-21 season continued to amaze and dazzle on a historic night at Old Trafford.
A night when a season noted for crazy scorelines and ever fluctuating fortunes took another madcap twist as Manchester United equalled our own 26-year-old record in brutal, relentless and unforgiving fashion. 

I wasn't quite four the last time something like this happened, in March 1995 when United recorded the biggest ever margin of victory in a Premier League game with a 9-0 gazzumping (is that a word?) of hapless Ipswich. Before my time and only a memory for many a misty-eyed Red, you'd have hard pressed to find even the most ardent of fans who could have foreseen that history would one day repeat itself. 

As United put a beleaguered, demoralised and depleted Southampton side to the sword, it was hard not to feel a drop of empathy for the likeable Ralph Hassenhuttl and his merry band of men. On a night when records tumbled, Saints themselves secured their own piece of unwanted history as surely the first example of a side losing 9-0 in a professional match twice - in consecutive seasons as well no less. Brendan Rodgers' Leicester infamously inflicted the same fate back in October 2019 in eerily similar circumstances when an early Ryan Bertrand red card preceded an implosion of the like none of us had ever seen before. Until now. This time, just as in that Leicester tie it may have come with a caveat - Saints had ten men for 89 minutes and nine men for seven - but the extenuating circumstances still should not diminish from a truly remarkable feat of football par excellence. 

There have now been three 9-0s in Premier League history and United have had two of them - only two managers have ever won by that margin in a home game. Two men by the names of Alexander Chapman Ferguson and another chap called Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Sound familiar? Both were present as the carnage unfolded on Tuesday night, with the former master proudly watching his pupil from his lofty position in the posh seats as a deserted Old Trafford. 

Games with Southampton are often tight and edgy, as Michael Obafemi's 96th-minute leveller in the corresponding fixture last term - and Edinson Cavani's late, climb off the canvas heroics at St Mary's in November - perhaps attest. Admittedly, there was a significant caveat here as the visitors, already with a patched up team, were further depleted when Alexandre Jankewitz channelled his inner WWE impression as he turned from Saint to sinner inside the opening minute.

From then on, the result never really looked in doubt but a chronic failure to break down a low block and a defensive minded team has proved this side's Achilles heel for so long. Even when United had raced into a 4-0 lead by the break, the feeling was that United would ease off against a Saints side firmly set in a damage limitation mode, given the hectic fixture schedule and with minds perhaps elsewhere. 

But the most pleasing thing here was the ruthless and clinical streak from Solskjaer's United. An argument could be made that United should have waved the white flag in an act of surrender at 4-0 - the football equivalent of tanking where you take you foot off the pedal and allow your opponent to restore an air of respectability. But teams with an eye on the prize don't do this - you need to be almost nasty in your approach, take absolute advantage and inflict maximum humiliation. This what Pep Guardiola's Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool would do - don't relent and keep trying to score. Indeed, Solskjaer could be heard pushing his players forward in the search for more, even at 6-0 up in the closing stages. At half-time I said, only half jokingly, that I wanted more from the team. In a title race that might come down to goal difference, every strike is pivotal.

The outright record of our biggest ever competitive victory remained tantalisingly out of reach. That is still our double digit thumping of Anderlecht in our first ever European Cup home game in 1956. A Busby Babes side at the peak of its considerable powers put the Belgian champions to the sword to the tune of a Tommy Taylor hat-trick, a brace from Liam Whelan, Johnny Berry and a four from the indomitable Dennis Viollet. Manchester United 10-0 Anderlecht.

Even in a season where you have to expect the unexpected, this was something I've never seen before nor will likely ever witness again. The closest we have come to such madness in my lifetime was the 7-1 mauling of the mighty Roma in Europe in 2007, swiftly followed by the glorious 8-2 demolition when we shot down the Gunners in 2011. But both of those came with Sir Alex at the helm and the Reds in their prime, as opposed to the fallow and difficult years of the post-Ferguson years when it seemed such hallmarks were a thing of the past. Of course, there is always an element of fluke behind results like this one - everything we hit went in and the manner of Southampton's feeble collapse is one you very rarely ever see at this level. Opponents don't often completely capitulate in the way the Saints did and the lack of fans only further emphasised how bonkers this all was. 

As United became the league's top scorers and moved back level with City at the top, there was another first as the Reds saw seven different players get on the scoresheet for the first time ever (excluding Bednarek's og). This was only the second time this has ever happened, equalling another record, this one set by Chelsea against Villa in 2012 when seven men got on the scoresheet, the most for the same team in a single match. Aaron Wan - Bissaka chipped in with a rare goal, Anthony Martial helped himself to a much needed brace and fellow substitute Dan James got in on the act. Bruno Fernandes ended his goal drought and Edinson Cavani grabbed his first at Old Trafford with a sumptuous header. Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford and an own goal from the hapless Jan Bednarek created another unique piece of trivia and completed the scoring in the joint third highest-scoring Premier League tie ever. 

Nine goals against nine men in 90 extraordinary minutes that really do need to be seen to be believed. As Saints look to erase the spectre of unwanted history - again - this was a statement that put Solskjaer's United firmly back on track.... and how! 

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