The 2020-21 Premier League season has officially reached the halfway mark, and what a season it has been thus far.
Manchester United not only thrashed Southampton nine-nil this week, but they showed they have the nasty ruthlessness required to be Premier League champions – maybe not this year, but soon.
A sleeping giant is waking up in the red half of Manchester.
Southampton dug their own grave in a forgettable night for manager Ralph Hasenhüttl. In just the second minute, Alex Jankewitz, a promising youngster on debut for Southampton, mistimed an aggressive challenge on Man United midfielder Scott McTominay.
A bit of physical play is appreciated in the English game but this tackle could’ve been a career-ender for McTominay if those studs were an inch to the left or right. Jankewitz saw red and you just knew it was going to be a long night for the Saints.
Regardless of playing against ten or 11 men, it takes a special team and a manager with a high level of tactical acumen to put nine goals past your opponent.
Do you throw men forward to nick a goal before shutting up shop? Do you stick with the status quo? What if you concede a sloppy goal from a corner and the opposition get their tails up, turning into prime Barcelona to upset you?
Make no mistake, this match showcased United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactical chops. Though more importantly, it demonstrated just how much he understands the attacking DNA of his former club.
Immediately after the sending off, he instructed his team to press high and suffocate the away side. It was vintage and relentless attack, evoking the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The centre backs pushed up and the wide men camped on the edge of the box to cause havoc for the Southampton defence. In the 17th minute, United made it 1-0 as Luke Shaw put the ball on a dime for a Aaron Wan-Bissaka finish at the far post.
Seven minutes later a goal from a Marcus Rashford volley worsened matters, before an own goal and an Edinson Cavani header saw the hosts go into the break four goals to the good.
What will please United fans more than the huge scoreline is just how ruthless the team was in the second half. Not resting on their laurels, United kept throwing men forward to score five more goals, equaling their own club record against Ipswich Town in 1995. This is nasty, this is arrogant, and this is ruthless.
This is Manchester United.
Cross-town rivals Manchester City are in imperious form and will most likely run away with the Premier League title this season. This is not the point. The point is that Man United is a club that is re-building itself.
This nine-goal battering has sent out the message that the Red Devils are well on the way back to title-winning form, and restoring the winning mentality that elevated the club to the very top of world football.
The Manchester United money men must continue this project and go big in the next transfer window. The squad needs a world-class midfielder and a world-class winger if it wants to reach that next level with the likes of Liverpool and City.
If United go and get Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund and Declan Rice from West Ham, the club will put itself in a position where it can challenge for the biggest prizes for many years to come.