GRAEME SOUNESS: You wouldn't want to be in the trenches with United

GRAEME SOUNESS: You wouldn’t want to be in the trenches with this Manchester United team… the Red Devils gave up during the 7-0 defeat at Anfield and the behaviour from the players was unacceptable!

  • Some were surprised by my certainty in Liverpool beating United on Saturday
  • Erik ten Hag’s side looked intimated pre-match and joked around at half-time
  • They were unacceptable and you wouldn’t want to be in the trenches with them 

I’ve been in that tunnel at Anfield enough times to know what Manchester United were up against last weekend. I’ve seen players looking intimated there before a ball’s been kicked. 

That is part of the reason why I was very, very confident about the outcome of last Sunday’s match. A few were surprised by the certainty with which I voiced my opinion on the Sky Sports broadcast, well before kick-off. 

But I was basing my thoughts on several things, including what I’d seen 12 days earlier, when for 45 minutes against Real Madrid, Liverpool had been fabulous. 

They had also gone four Premier League games without conceding a goal. United had been winning games but not convincingly. Some of United’s players had never experienced playing at Anfield. 

Someone should have told them this isn’t like going to the Emirates, the Etihad or Stamford Bridge. This is Anfield. The history between those two clubs makes it a very difficult game for any United team: great, good or average.

Bruno Fernandes received criticisms for his attitude and body language during the 7-0 defeat

The Red Devils suffered the historic loss during a Premier League visit to rivals Liverpool

There’s a historical dislike for each other which sometimes borders on the unacceptable, on both sides, when they start singing about tragedy. I’ve been at Anfield as an opposition player and manager and I know how they can get you on the back foot. 

It’s then very hard to change the course of a game, especially when Liverpool are kicking towards the Kop. The belief that crowd give Liverpool’s players is something I don’t think is matched anywhere in English football.

United were a team who had been just about getting away with it recently. It was after Liverpool scored their second goal, straight after half-time, that the real worry for them kicked in. That was when some of their players showed that you would not want to be in the trenches with them.

It wasn’t the concession of seven goals but the behaviour of some of those players, when it went to 3-0, which was unacceptable. All the big teams can get beaten. Most rational United supporters would have the humility to accept defeat by a good team.

But it is impossible to accept what, in simple English language, I would describe as giving up. At the home of your oldest and fiercest rivals. Good players sense the way a game like that is going. It’s like ring craft. What a boxer knows he must do to close out a fight. Whoever those United players think they might be, they simply didn’t possess it.

Liverpool had their tails up, kicking into the Kop and the crowd were on fire. The approach had to be: ‘This ain’t our day. Let’s batten down the hatches and not make it embarrassing.’

The most worrying thing from United’s perspective was the lack of players who could smell that and respond correctly. At 3-0, they had some people who simply lost the will. Players who wished they were somewhere other than Anfield, on a Sunday afternoon, getting beaten up and embarrassed by a very good team.

The Liverpool players celebrate Roberto Firmino’s late strike – the seventh goal of the match

The United players stand dejected after rivals Liverpool ran riot during the league affair

This is not their first heavy defeat. United conceded six to Manchester City. They conceded four to Brentford. Four, six and seven in one season? I’m sorry but that’s not a good sign.

It was pointed out that some United players were laughing and joking with the Liverpool staff in the tunnel at half-time. Well, I can only speak from my own experience. I had to make it personal, to get the best out of myself. 

I looked at the guy I was playing against in midfield and said, ‘I’m going to have a better 90 minutes than you today, one way or another’. That would start from the minute we received the teamsheet.

I don’t want United’s ineptitude to obscure assessment of a Liverpool team who played extremely well. Cody Gakpo looked like a Liverpool player. This should be the catalyst for him to say: ‘I belong at this level.’

The same applies to Darwin Nunez. He is going to get three, four or five chances every game and although he’ll miss some and have off days, he’ll convert a lot, too. That’s just the type of player he is — big, quick, brave and he’s got a brain. I don’t think anyone enjoys playing against him. He’s going to be a real asset.

I’ve experienced heavy defeats. My Southampton team lost 7-1 at Everton in 1996. We’d been trying to play three at the back against a very strong opponent and it just didn’t work. We changed it but the damage had been done. As a group and individuals, we all had to accept responsibility.

But this is different. This result is going to be talked about for years and years. I don’t collect match programmes but I made a point of getting one and taking it home on Sunday, as testament to the fact that I was there.

Darwin Nunez now has eight Premier League goals after scoring a brace against Man United

You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose a few games, or you lose badly. When teams get a few good results, everyone is talking about ‘a winning mentality’, ‘strong characters in the dressing room’ and ‘we’re all in it together.’ 

None of those attributes were on show in the second half on Sunday. Erik ten Hag certainly now knows what he does and doesn’t have in that dressing room.

He and his management team must talk about it, address it and demand that it never happens again. United must look themselves in the mirror, in a way that they never have before. 

We should take nothing away from the game’s winners. But United are the ones now under scrutiny again when they play Southampton tomorrow. For them, it’s a gigantic wake-up call.

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