Man United bounced back from a reality check at Brentford byrediscovering the fire inside


The crushing defeat at Brentford left scars on Manchester United and figured prominently as Erik ten Hag’s appraisal of victory at Southampton revolved around strong foundations, solidity, organisation and spirit.

Lessons learned was the manager’s theme and, encouragingly for United, it had penetrated the minds of his players as they performed with their sleeves rolled up, ready for a hard shift at St Mary’s.

‘The Brentford game was a big reality check,’ said midfielder Scott McTominay, the epitome of this mentality. ‘It takes a lot of balls to come back from that as a team, with all the criticism every player gets.’

Manchester United earned a 1-0 victory over Southampton at St. Mary's Stadium on Saturday

Manchester United earned a 1-0 victory over Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium on Saturday

The Red Devils' defender Lisandro Martinez put in an assured performance on the south coast

The Red Devils’ defender Lisandro Martinez put in an assured performance on the south coast

No one received more personal criticism after the 4-0 mauling at Brentford than Lisandro Martinez, swiftly written off as simply not tall enough to play in central defence in a competition with the aerial dimension of the Premier League.

Others will look to isolate and dominate him as Brentford forward Ivan Toney did to such great effect, although the top flight of English football is not nearly as aerial as it once was and what Martinez lacks in height he makes up for in aggression, tenacity and defensive acumen.

There might be certain games when Ten Hag will opt to be without the Argentine but he is a fine footballer who understands his manager’s demands.

Even with the precision delivery of James Ward-Prowse, Southampton could not expose him in the air and supportive cries of ‘Argentina! Argentina!’ went up from travelling fans.

Martinez (left) was heavily criticised following Man United's 4-0 defeat to Brentford this month

Martinez (left) was heavily criticised following Man United’s 4-0 defeat to Brentford this month

The Red Devils ended a number of unwanted runs after the win at St Mary's Stadium

The Red Devils ended a number of unwanted runs after the win at St Mary’s Stadium

Under close scrutiny, United’s defensive unit had passed this test. 

Raphael Varane and McTominay were strong in the air, appreciative of the need to support Martinez. The full backs operated with good sense and Diogo Dalot was an attacking threat on the right.

Lessons learned, as Ten Hag said afterwards. Evidence of United players playing for each other once more, united again. These were the most encouraging elements of this victory for those who have witnessed the post-Ferguson demise at Old Trafford.

‘We can’t have any dips again,’ said McTominay. ‘We needed to bounce back. We needed that fire inside. As soon as that fire goes out, we are in trouble. We have to keep that fire together.

‘Team spirit is the most important thing and if we have good team spirit, we will go far. If we don’t and it goes easy, and we are easy on each other then it might not go so far.’

Erik ten Hag’s side climbed into the top half of the Premier League after the Southampton win

Midfielder Scott McTominay (centre) dismissed claims that he handled the ball in the box

Midfielder Scott McTominay (centre) dismissed claims that he handled the ball in the box

Southampton peppered David de Gea’s goal with 17 shots over 90 minutes and thought they deserved a penalty for handball against McTominay as he contested a bouncing ball at close quarters with Che Adams.

‘Not once, three times,’ said Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, astonished because the ball had struck McTominay on one arm, rolled across his chest and struck his other arm.

Unsurprisingly, the Scotland midfielder saw it differently. ‘No way was it a penalty,’ said McTominay. ‘I spoke to Che and we were ducking and diving and no, it was not a penalty.’

The officials sided with McTominay and Southampton for all their energy and effort could not pierce a defensive unit reinforced from the bench by Brazilian enforcers Casemiro and Fred. For Casemiro, it was a debut after his high-profile £70million move from Real Madrid.

Bruno Fernandes' strike in the 55th minute was enough to seal the victory for the Red Devils

Bruno Fernandes’ strike in the 55th minute was enough to seal the victory for the Red Devils

‘To learn off somebody like him, who has done pretty much everything, is amazing,’ added McTominay. ‘His mentality, the way he’s so firm with everything he does. Obviously, he’s an amazing footballer who can help us so much and be one of our main players. It’s great to have him.’

Ultimately, the game was decided by a stylish Bruno Fernandes volley, swept in from 18 yards early in the second half to the relief of Manchester United and their new boss, who admits he is still learning about the Premier League.

‘That’s the challenge,’ said Ten Hag. ‘It’s a great experience. I know that in the Premier League are the best coaches, the best players, the highest intensity and always in a different way. That is quite interesting.

‘You have to adapt and find a way to win games and that is what we did. That was the problem especially in the second game when you don’t give everything and you don’t have the attitude for 100 per cent and you don’t have the team spirit. 

‘You don’t have to talk about philosophy or gameplan or whatever. First, it has to be a team and spirit and 100 per cent commitment.’



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