A repeat of Manchester United’s 9-0 win over Southampton in 2021 was not on the cards on Sunday, with the Red Devils laboring to a 0-0 draw against the Saints.
What happened and why did it go so wrong? Here is a look at five things we learned from the disappointing result at Old Trafford…
Manchester United can blame the referee
Erik ten Hag is not usually one to blame referees. Even he had some choice words after this game, telling Sky Sports that the officiating ‘influenced’ the result.
Casemiro’s red card was awful enough. VAR saw an initial yellow card upgraded to red, to the surprise of players on both teams, leaving United to play the final 55 minutes with 10 men.
That was just part of it. United should have had a penalty after a handball inside the box, while Alejandro Garnacho was injured by a late tackle and left Old Trafford on crutches.
The standard of refereeing in the Premier League appears to get worse each season, and this might have been the nadir of the 2022/23 campaign from an officiating standpoint.
Erik ten Hag’s election call backfires
Erik ten Hag named an attacking line-up going for goals, with Casemiro deployed as a sole defensive midfielder and Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho taking more attacking roles.
It was an experimental and brave move that did not work. Even before the red card, United was struggling to create chances. The team ended with just four shots on target.
But the more unfortunate effect may have impacted Casemiro. Was too much asked of him to anchor such an attack-minded midfield against a high-pressing team?
If he had Fred alongside him, perhaps he would not have needed to dive into the challenge of Carlos Alcaraz in the first place.
Race is on for third place – don’t expect any higher
If you were still clinging onto hope of a title challenge, this was the weekend it truly came to an abrupt end.
On the same day Arsenal won 3-0 against Fulham away from home, United could only muster a draw against Southampton at home.
Title-winning teams manage to overcome adversity and win these types of games. United is still some way short. Arsenal and Manchester City will battle it out for the top two places.
Third place would still be a good finish for Manchester United, and this was a point gained, on a weekend Liverpool lost to Bournemouth.
Unfortunately, it was two points dropped to Tottenham, who are just two points behind United, although we do have a game in hand. The race is on for third place, and this draw could still be valuable at the end of the season.
Ten Hag locked into Manchester United center-back partnership
Erik ten Hag appears locked in regarding Manchester United’s defensive duo. Following the horrendous defeat to Liverpool last week, Ten Hag has stuck with Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane for two successive games.
This is a partnership in which the manager is invested, and wants to be successful. He will at least be pleased by the way they were able to keep a clean sheet.
It is bad news for Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire. There could be some rotation for the Europa League game at Real Betis on Thursday night.
But Ten Hag has made his preference clear. He does not like to rotate unless he has to.
Jadon Sancho’s puzzle is still a work in progress
This was Jadon Sancho‘s first start since the win over Barcelona and just his fourth in 2023. He is a work in progress.
Sancho needs consistency to hit his stride, and that will be tricky amid the competition for places. He did not do enough in this game to show he should be a ‘must-start’.
While he managed more dribble completions (4) than any player on the pitch, Sancho did not create a single chance or attempt a single shot and made only two passes into the final third.
United needed more from him, and while Erik ten Hag has shown patience, the attacker remains an enigma that his manager is yet to fully figure out.