It says a lot about public opinion towards VAR that many Manchester United fans were left debating the merits of the video referee technology, rather than talking about a record-equalling win over Southampton.
Okay, the 9-0 drubbing of Saints was helped in part by some farcical officiating, though most of the blame can be laid at the door of Mike Dean, not his Stockley Park counterparts. And in any case, the officials got the most important decision of the game correct, in sending off Southampton’s Alex Jankewitz two minutes in.
If neutrals weren’t joining in the discussion about VAR, they were lamenting a second 9-0 landslide loss for Ralph Hasenhuttl during his time in charge of Saints. Questions are rightly being asked how such ignominy can befall the same manager twice in successive seasons.
But don’t United deserve some credit for swatting aside the Austrian’s team in such swashbuckling fashion? Shouldn’t there be praise for the way United’s forwards clicked into gear, ending a barren league run in front of goal?
Before Jankewitz’s moment of madness after 77 seconds at Old Trafford, United had scored eight goals in their previous nine matches, discounting the 3-2 FA Cup win over Liverpool.
As Daniel James intimated after the final whistle, United may just end up thanking the Southampton rookie for giving the Reds a much-needed shot in the arm.
“We scored some great goals, but we came in at half-time and the gaffer said ‘go and get more goals’ and that is what we did today,” said James, who netted the record-equalling ninth.
“It is easy to come in at half-time thinking we have won the game. Harry [Maguire] and the gaffer were on to the boys about going back out and doing exactly the same.
“Goal difference is massive, but also for our confidence and doing the right things. Today was the day we could do that.”
It would not be fair to judge either United or Southampton from such a chaotic, madcap 90 minutes, but maybe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side showed their true colours in the game.
That hitherto scoring streak is not reflective of the footballing style the Norwegian has favoured at United, and there’s been an over-reliance on the ability of Paul Pogba to perform a rescue act in recent weeks. The Frenchman struck long-range winners to bail his teammates out at Burnley and Fulham, turning one point into three on both occasions, but it felt significant that United did it without Pogba this time.
Okay, you can argue that the World Cup winner was hardly needed, as United were asked to break down a soft-centred 10-man Saints.
But the buccaneering midfield display of Scott McTominay and the half-time arrival of Donny van de Beek showed that, if nothing else, Solskjaer has other options for the future.
Pogba’s recent performances, aided by a content and jovial exterior of late, have made it easy for United fans to forget the elephant in the room. That is the fact Pogba will almost certainly leave United in the summer after Mino Raiola’s December bombshell.
From the moment Pogba’s outspoken agent opened his mouth (again), Solskjaer was left with a dilemma — whether to begin to cut ties with Pogba, or keep him integrated in the squad. The ever-diplomatic Solskjaer was always going to choose the latter, and in fairness he has managed the situation with an expert touch. Pogba looks happy, United have reaped the rewards.
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Manchester United smashed nine goals past Southampton on Tuesday night as they bounced back from disappointing results against Sheffield United and Arsenal in emphatic fashion.
The game was effectively over as a contest inside the first two minutes as Southampton were reduced to 10 men, but United still had to find the goals and they did exactly that, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial (two), Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes and Daniel James all getting on the scoresheet.
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But against Southampton, Solskjaer — like James said — was tasked with restoring his players’ confidence levels. The Welshman was among those who needed a boost; so too Van de Beek and two-goal hero Anthony Martial (who doubled his Premier League tally for the season).
Solskjaer did not need to introduce Pogba, but he also did not want to.
Van de Beek has not yet shone like many hoped he would when moving to United in September, but the 23-year-old is the club’s obvious heir to Pogba. The likes of McTominay and Fred, who continue to impress, are also here to stay. Bruno Fernandes stayed on against Southampton because he always stays on — and predictably got a goal and a couple of assists.
United are planning for a future without Paul Pogba, make no mistake. If Southampton was not the template, then it was a positive sign nonetheless.