Manchester United’s new era begins much like the last one ended. Erik ten Hag’s first competitive game in charge is recorded as a defeat against Brighton and Hove Albion and will be remembered even more soberingly than the 0-4 in the penultimate game at Amex last season: not only because it happened this time at Old Trafford, but because it pierces any sense of early optimism built up by this recent cultural reset.
United’s aspirations to finish in the top four and a quick return to the Champions League under their new manager were dashed by Pascal Gross’s first-half double which gave Brighton their first win at the spot. It was deserved. Aside from a period of pressure before Alexis Mac Allister’s own goal, United offered little evidence he had made progress over the summer.
Like the last Dutchman to take the helm in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, Ten Hag begins with a 2-1 loss at home. And just like Louis van Gaal, he will do things his way, according to his philosophy. This was about calling up the wanton Cristiano Ronaldo after his lack of minutes in preparation despite a lack of options up front. For all the trouble he can cause, United didn’t look any better without him in an experimental starting line-up.
Christian Eriksen debuted as the false nine but was ineffective. His team-mate, Lisandro Martinez, neither embarrassed himself nor improved his defense noticeably, which was six and seven on both of Gross’s goals. United gave the impression of a side that needs a lot more time on the training ground and adapting to their manager’s expectations. Patience is required, but at Old Trafford, which has booed players full-time, there is rarely much reserve.
This new beginning not only had an all too familiar background in the debate about Ronaldo’s non-selection. A protest over Glazer ownership began in Salford’s Media City and ended before kick-off in front of the statue of Sir Matt Busby, prompting the megastore to be temporarily closed. And for once, one of the themes of her anger was present. Avram Glazer probably didn’t go out to witness the demonstration firsthand, but he did watch a somber first half from the directors’ box.
United showed early signs of what Ten Hag has been working on in training as Scott McTominay took more advanced positions than usual and Bruno Fernandes missed half a chance after eight minutes. However, the tone for the afternoon was set after 15 seconds when Leandro Trossard chased a Diogo Dalot free-kick and fired into the side netting.
And so the ease with which Brighton – not a side known for fast, direct attacking – could exploit space behind United’s defense from the start was a cause for concern. It wasn’t the only one. There were teething problems at almost every turn, whether it was Eriksen’s unfamiliarity with the false nine or David de Gea’s unease with possession, which played a small role in Brighton’s half-hour opener.
After debating whether to play from behind and eventually changing his mind, the United goalkeeper’s long punt was picked up by Joel Veltman. A tangle with McTominay, which the Brighton defender easily won, set off an attack and Trossard then found Danny Welbeck in the left inside channel. From the touchline, his cut-back dodged the retreating De Gea and United backline to find Gross knocking unmarked at the far post.
A bad start would only get worse. Brighton’s brilliant second followed five minutes before the break. The move started from their own left corner flag, where the superb Moises Caicedo parried off Eriksen’s challenge, and went all the way to United’s right corner where Mac Allister’s tame shot was blocked by the even tamer hand of DeGea. Gross ate the scraps and turned back into an unguarded net at the far post.
It was an excellent team goal and proof that Potter’s team is far better trained when necessary than the gang before them. It’s not Ten Hag’s fault, of course, but it was still his problem to solve. The United manager went down the tunnel at half-time for his first significant team call of his tenure. And although there were no changes at the break, he had reached out to Ronaldo within eight minutes of the restart.
Ten Hag’s immediate predecessor in charge, Ralf Rangnick, finally concluded that despite all the tactical difficulties Ronaldo caused, United could not play without him.
That could be the conclusion his replacement draws after seeing his side improve with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner on the pitch. On the hour, a low Ronaldo cross put Marcus Rashford one-on-one with Robert Sanchez, only for his attempt to be stifled. The offside flag then apparently went wrong. Had Rashford scored, it might have gone.
The deficit was eventually halved by a Brighton player. United’s inability to attack set pieces became a running issue last season but a corner delivered the season’s first goal. Dalot didn’t know much about the ball that hit him in the back. As it made its way towards the line, Harry Maguire’s presence was enough to push it away from the unfortunate Mac Allister. It was extremely scrappy but United had made the most of their increasing momentum. They were now just one goal away from avoiding a sobering first defeat of the Ten Hag era. It hasn’t arrived.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/manchester-united-brighton-result-premier-league-2022-b2140145.html Manchester United vs Brighton Result: Premier League Score, Goals, Report