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-year-old 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, the Black Cats 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 Carabao Cup on Tuesday 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 23-0, 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 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.”