The Cornish Maldini was in feisty form for Southampton against United, playing a key part in the opening goal and proving a much welcome leader in a usually shaky back line. Stephens’ robust challenge on Bruno Fernandes after 30 minutes saw him turn over possession and play a neat ball to the edge of the box. After some lovely one touch football, Adams curled a shot past De Gea with the assistance of a significant Fred deflection.
There is no doubting the commitment or indeed the endeavour which Stephens has shown in the last decade at the club but his proneness to lapses in concentration has often been an Achilles heel which is hard to look past. One dubious pass aside, which led to a Bruno free kick, he was relatively error free during the 90 minutes and his distribution was a solid platform for Ward-Prowse and Romeu to build upon.
His performance against Manchester United was commanding and for the most part, he limited the opposition threat. Although Stephens still has the propensity to get caught out of position, especially against crosses, he worked hard in tandem with his defensive colleagues to ensure there was always cover.
With the height and protection previously offered by Vestergaard now several hundred miles up the road in Leicestershire, Stephens, Bednarek and Salisu will need to ensure that they are competitive in the air. Possibly the only disappointment defensively against United was the way in which they failed to won key headers in the box.
Had headed efforts from Matic, Greenwood and Pogba been better directed, Saints may not have ended the day with a share of the spoils and instead, could have been left to rue some disappointing marking from set pieces. Nevertheless, this is still a relatively new look Southampton back line and Hasenhuttl will need to be patient in the coming weeks. For Stephens at least, he will be delighted that the focus was on him for all the right reasons.