CITY NEXT COULD ADD TO WOES OF SOUTHAMP­TON AF­TER LE­ICES­TER

▶ Quick turn­around for Hasen­huttl’s side who now face two trips to Premier League cham­pi­ons days af­ter the big­gest home de­feat in English top-flight his­tory

The National - News - - SPORT - RICHARD JOLLY

A dis­as­ter. Em­bar­rass­ing. Help­less. No de­fend­ing. No fight. Hor­ri­ble to watch. The stuff of night­mares.

Some­times par­tic­i­pants’ anal­y­sis is so frank that it is a won­der that there is a need for pro­fes­sional pun­dits.

Southamp­ton’s 9-0 thrash­ing by Le­ices­ter City drew brac­ingly hon­est com­ments from a vis­i­bly shaken Ralph Hasen­huttl and Nathan Red­mond.

Af­ter the heav­i­est home de­feat in the his­tory of the English top flight, and thus ar­guably the worst re­sult in a divi­sion that dates back to 1888, the cap­tain Pierre-Emile Ho­jb­jerg kept re­peat­ing “I apol­o­gise” in an in­ter­view.

It was the sort of un­for­get­table oc­ca­sion that is burned in the mem­ory, and not merely of Tom Sher­burn, the 13-yearold fan whose long-awaited first game was at St Mary’s on Fri­day.

There is the ques­tion of how Southamp­ton make amends. The first step was taken when the squad and coach­ing staff do­nated Fri­day’s wages to the Saints Foun­da­tion, a char­ity that works within the com­mu­nity.

Yet there is also the con­cern that, de­spite plum­met­ing to the deep­est of depths against

Le­ices­ter, it could get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter.

There are en­cour­ag­ing prece­dents from the past of teams who re­sponded ad­mirably.

A decade ago, Wi­gan Ath­letic won the game af­ter con­ced­ing nine at Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, but it was at home to Sunderland. Five years later, Sunderland lost 8-0 at St Mary’s but won their next away match.

Thirty years ago, Crys­tal Palace were de­mol­ished 9-0 by Liver­pool but re­turned to ac­tion by pick­ing up a point against Southamp­ton and went on to reach the FA Cup fi­nal that sea­son.

But none of them had Southamp­ton’s sched­ule. A fix­ture list that pit­ted them away at Manch­ester City twice, first in the League Cup to­day and then in the Premier League on Satur­day, al­ways looked bru­tal.

Now it takes on other di­men­sions. It raises the pos­si­bil­ity that, over eight days, the ag­gre­gate score could be 22-0 or 230, and not in Southamp­ton’s favour.

And if that sounds hy­per­bolic, Mark Hughes’ Saints may have been flat­tered by a 6-1 score­line at the Eti­had Sta­dium last Novem­ber.

Wat­ford have al­ready lost there 8-0 this year. City have scored at least five goals in a game 14 times since the start of last sea­son.

It may be wor­ry­ing for Southamp­ton that Pep Guardi­ola vowed not to be lured into com­pla­cency by the his­toric hu­mil­i­a­tion.

“They are in­cred­i­ble pro­fes­sion­als,” said the City man­ager, who was quick to recog­nise a young Ho­jb­jerg’s tal­ent at Bay­ern Mu­nich and who is a vo­cal ad­mirer of Red­mond. “They will try to do their best so I am not go­ing to judge them on or pre­pare to play against them based on what hap­pened against Le­ices­ter, so it’s a lit­tle bit strange.”

As their pre­vi­ous re­sult was a cred­itable draw at Wolves, that may be true.

But if Fri­day was a per­fect storm, of a 10th-minute dis­missal, a hap­less dis­play and ruth­less, bril­liant op­po­nents, it leaves a legacy.

Southamp­ton will be with­out their best left-back: Ryan

Ber­trand, sent off then and sus­pended now.

The for­mer City goal­keeper An­gus Gunn was cul­pa­ble for at least two Le­ices­ter goals.

His save per­cent­age this sea­son is down to a la­mentable 54 per cent. He could be taken out of the fir­ing line.

The great­est is­sue is the de­part­ment where a strength has be­come a weak­ness. Southamp­ton’s re­cent cen­tre-backs in­clude the world’s best, in Vir­gil van Dijk; two Cham­pi­ons League win­ners, in the Dutch­man and De­jan Lovren; a Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal­ist, in Toby Alder­weireld; a World Cup run­ner-up, in Lovren; and a Euro 2016 win­ner, in Jose Fonte.

Now Hasen­huttl has of­ten been un­able to play his pre­ferred 4-2-2-2 for­ma­tion be­cause no two cen­tre-backs of­fer enough so­lid­ity.

He has in­stead fielded un­con­vinc­ing trios. Southamp­ton re­quired de­fen­sive

It may be wor­ry­ing that Pep Guardi­ola vowed not to be lured into com­pla­cency by the 9-0 his­toric hu­mil­i­a­tion

re­in­force­ments in the sum­mer and only got the young loa­nee Kevin Danso.

They let the man­ager down in the trans­fer mar­ket. The club are cor­rect in plan­ning to ap­point a direc­tor of foot­ball and right in back­ing Hasen­huttl. Fri­day not­with­stand­ing, he is much Southamp­ton’s finest man­ager since Ronald Koe­man.

Pan­ick­ing and dis­miss­ing a coach who in­her­ited a mess would com­pound the prob­lems of a side al­ready in a rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle. But, qui­etly and un­der­lin­ing why Hasen­huttl wanted more of a clearout, there has long been the sense too many of the play­ers have the wrong at­ti­tude. That be­came ap­par­ent to the wider world on Fri­day. Now, shamed by a ca­pit­u­la­tion, they should not be shielded by the man­ager’s at­tempt to take re­spon­si­bil­ity. As Ho­jb­jerg said: “We can never show our face like this again.”

Reuters

Southamp­ton travel to Eti­had to­day for the League Cup tie be­fore head­ing back on Satur­day for their Premier League match

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