MANCHESTER, England — It was not just the margin of victory that was a surprise as Manchester United thrashed Southampton 9-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday. As well as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team emphatically ending their problems in front of goal with their biggest win since beating Ipswich by the same scoreline in March 1995, a chaotic 90 minutes also featured a red card for 19-year-old Southampton midfielder Alexandre Jankewitz after just 77 seconds of his first Premier League start and Aaron Wan-Bissaka popping up with a rare goal to give United the lead and spark the rout.
Two from substitute Anthony Martial, a Bruno Fernandes penalty and goals from Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Scott McTominay and Daniel James also contributed to a nightmare night for the Saints, who ended the game with nine men following Jan Bednarek’s late dismissal. Bednarek summed up his team’s misfortune by having already scored an own goal and conceded a penalty. Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl at least knows his players are capable of recovering from such a severe result after losing 9-0 to Leicester just 15 months ago.
Solskjaer’s men took advantage of the visitors’ reduced numbers to record their biggest win in nearly 26 years, and among a host of positives as United moved level on points at the top of the Premier League table with Manchester City, Wan-Bissaka’s contribution provided a glimpse of the team the Norwegian hopes they are becoming.
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“Definitely the right side has traditionally been a challenge for us going forward,” Solskjaer said afterward. “We haven’t found a right-back to fill the [Antonio] Valencia void, but Aaron is getting better. I can’t remember one full-back crossing for another to score.”
That’s exactly what Luke Shaw did for Wan-Bissaka, who had raced almost the length of the pitch to get into the box.
There is no doubting Wan-Bissaka’s defensive ability, especially in one-on-one situations, but he has work to do to earn a place among the best full-backs in the world, primarily because he is still learning how to make goals as well as stop them. The very best players in his position can do both, and at £50 million — making him one of the 10 most expensive defenders in the world — he will be expected to get there eventually.
It says everything about the type of right-back Wan-Bissaka is that before the game kicked off, he had recorded more tackles than any other player in the Premier League this season but had the same number of assists at Victor Lindelof. He has another now after picking out Martial with a perfect cross, and could have had one more if Cavani had made more of a good chance before the Uruguayan was replaced at half-time.
It was Wan-Bissaka’s defensive attributes that first attracted Solskjaer — particularly two outstanding performances against Manchester City’s Leroy Sane while playing for Crystal Palace — but there is an acceptance that his attacking output can improve. It’s something Solskjaer and his staff are working on. They are prepared to be patient given he is still only 23 and because of an understanding that racing forward out of defence is not as important at Selhurst Park as it is at Old Trafford.
“When you play at Man United as a full-back, you do have to provide assists,” said Solskjaer last season. “We always knew that he was going to be hard to beat. He’s one of the best one-versus-one defenders I’ve ever seen, but he used to be a winger when he was younger, so he’s got it in him.
“We rely on the full-backs to go forward in the way we want to play. He’s getting better on the ball; he doesn’t give the ball away a lot. He’s not been asked to venture forward much earlier in his career.”
Wan-Bissaka — one of a number of outstanding performers against Southampton — only needs to look at United’s other flank for inspiration. Shaw has benefitted from the added competition created by the arrival of Alex Telles in the summer and is enjoying his best run of form since moving from Southampton as a teenager. Against his former club, he created five chances and made goals for Wan-Bissaka and Cavani, despite playing for only 45 minutes.
Sources have told ESPN that United are exploring the possibility of signing another right-back in the hope it might do for Wan-Bissaka what the signing of Telles has done for Shaw. England Under-21 international Max Aarons, currently at Norwich City, is one of the names in the frame ahead of the summer.
Before then, United are still well positioned to mount a first genuine title challenge since 2013.
“You know what I liked about the performance was the hunger and attitude to do the right things,” Solskjaer said. “That’s the only way to get better. You can see loads of things we are working on. We want to be a bit unpredictable and the players did that excellently, with freedom and imagination.
“I thought they played the game properly. They were ruthless and they wanted it more and more. When you play football you have to make [the] most of it, and they played like it could have been their last game, so very pleased with everyone.”