Manchester United delivered an astounding result on Tuesday night, defeating Southampton at Old Trafford by an incredible nine goals to nil.
The Saints suffered two red cards during the contest – with the first materialising after just 90 seconds – but regardless, United’s performance was strong and relentless at the business end of the field.
Amongst the stories that can be generated from the clash, the roles of Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are likely to drift under the radar.
The two English defenders contributed significantly to the win and crucially, how they performed offered a wider insight into United’s prospects against certain types of opponents.
Although the Red Devils benefited from an early sending off, the scores remained level until the 18th minute with Ralph Hassenhuttl’s men keeping virtually all of his players behind the ball.
The goal which broke the deadlock involved Shaw registering an assist and Wan-Bissaka finding the net in what was a rarely seen full-back to full-back move.
Shaw posted a second assist before he was substituted at half-time and ultimately, the way in which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer used the two players proved to be integral to breaking down the Saints, as they both hugged the touchline and stretched the play horizontally.
Shaw is experiencing his best form in a United jersey at the moment; the 25 year-old and Wan-Bissaka have both failed to have much of an impact on the attack of their teams previously.
The former took time to settle in Manchester and has been hindered by injuries, while the latter is renowned for his defensive qualities rather than his ability to contribute with scoring opportunities.
For that reason, United have encountered problems over the years – particularly at home – when faced with a stubborn defensive block full of opponents who are willing to settle for a point.
Liverpool have faced similar problems over the years, as summed up by Jurgen Klopp’s right-hand man, Pep Ljinders, who stated: “Every opponent makes the middle closed for us, so the space is on the sides. Openings must come from there. Trent and Robbo literally give us wings. But the rotten thing is that teams are already trying to stop that.”
Pep Guardiola, when asked what is needed to break down defensive opponents, stated: “First, to be wide. It’s impossible when facing deep defending to be narrow.
Shaw and Wan-Bissaka are often presented with the most space for United in and around the final third and against Southampton, they used that luxury to great effect.
Moving forward, if Solskjaer’s men are to continue breaking down the organised defences ahead of them, the ability of the team’s full-backs to contribute in attack will be vital and if both Shaw and Wan-Bissaka can build upon what was showcased on Tuesday night, United will achieve their goals with greater ease.