Erik ten Hag joked it would take an hour to explain ‘the rules’ he’s set out for Manchester United —but was relieved to see his side finally following them.
United’s fortunes seem to be turning after losing their first two contests of the Premier League season as they claimed their second victory in as many games with a 1-0 win at Southampton after beating Liverpool on Monday.
Bruno Fernandes’ second-half volley was enough to seal the three points, but his boss preferred to look at the full-team picture, a view he felt was now much more appealing than the dreary portrait many painted at the season’s start.
“I think we did a lot better [than] against Brentford,” he said. “You saw a team on the pitch, good organisation, fight for each other, and I think there were also some really good moments from playing football.
“We scored finally in the best part of Man United after half time. I think that 10-15 minutes was really good. We played a really good possession game and scored a wonderful goal.
“There is a lot of room for improvement, that’s quite clear, but for me that is normal. Communication is always tough, that’s one. Second is cooperation with the team, that is new. A new way of play, so a lot of new facts, and that will not go 100 per cent from the start. But we have to get results, we have to win games, and that is what we went through.
“And we did today, so I’m really happy with that.”
Asked about the specifics of his rule book, ten Hag replied: “Do you have an hour? There is always a journey with your team. We started from the first day in pre-season to get that in, and now the window is not closed. Every time a new player is in you have to inform them about the rules, and they have to play together.”
The contest was close throughout, with the winners enjoying just a one per cent advantage in possession.
Neither side, however, was able to open the scoring in the first half, despite a thrilling goalmouth scramble that saw three United attempts blocked within seconds of each other.
Finally Diogo Dalot was able to pick out his fellow Portugal international at the centre of the penalty area after the restart and Fernandes wasted no time in sending a volley into the bottom left corner for the 55th-minute game winner.
Pleased though he was with Fernandes, who once again wore the captain’s armband, ten Hag was quick to revisit the build-up to the goal.
“[Captaincy] gave [Fernandes] an impulse, he showed it already on Monday where he played a great game, especially if you look at the physical part, creating chances.
“And today I think he brought the same on the pitch, and then the finish was really fantastic, but also I should mention it was a team goal, because we played really well out over the right side and I think also came out of a switch.”
Southampton staged a late rally but could not find an equaliser in a game where they had plenty of opportunities.
Many came through Che Adams, whose brace led to Saints’ 2-1 win over Leicester last weekend.
Ralph Hasenhuttl rewarded him with a start on Saturday, but the Scotland international could not put the finishing touch on any of his chances, sending several over the woodwork.
“I think the performance was very good,” said Hasenhuttl. “I [did not] have one player in the team where I could say I wasn’t happy about his performance, and that shows you after the game that you did a good job with the quality we have, with the weapons we have to stress them.
“We had a lot of chances created today and didn’t give them a lot, so from this part I think we matched them. In the end maybe we had the better chances but didn’t score.
“I’m not scared with this team. I see how quick the guys are learning and how quick we are adapting to this quality. We can be proud of what I’ve seen today.”