September 28, 2022

The Erik ten Hag era got off to a rocky start at Manchester United following a 2-1 defeat by Brighton at Old Trafford. Manchester United booed off the pitch after 2-0 at half-time to a Pascal Gross goal, Manchester United would pull a goal back through an Alexis McAllister own goal, but it never felt like the Red Devils were threatening. While Brighton are a difficult team to open the season with, due to the way Graham Potter prepares his team and their discipline, it is important to note that the Seagulls finished closer to Manchester United than Manchester United United in a Champions League spot last season.

Just seven points separated the two sides and despite losing Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella in the summer, Potter will be keen to close that gap this season. An opening day win at Old Trafford certainly helps that aim. Brighton were the better team from the first kick of the ball and could easily have scored more goals. From almost the first kick, Leandro Trossard picked out Diogo Dalot but fired his shot just wide of David de Gea’s net. This would foreshadow how the match would play out as Brighton’s press was something the ten Hag would be jealous of as he wants a similar set-up at United.

Despite posting on social media that he was fit for the match, Cristiano Ronaldo started the day on the bench as Ten Haag opted to start only Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez out of the new summer additions. Eriksen had an interesting role as a centre-forward flanked by Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, but where things started to fall apart was in a familiar spot between the midfield pairing of Scott McTominay and Fred. Not pressing Adam Lallana in Brighton’s first goal gave Danny Welbeck plenty of space to play a through ball into the back of the net that found Gross:

Fred was also beaten for Brighton’s second as Luke Shaw and Bruno Fernandes failed to close down Solly Mart before De Gea latched onto his cross:

The goals wouldn’t be so bad if the duo offered more in the build-up, but instead they lost possession a total of 21 times in the center of midfield. Although this was not the team’s top number, as it belongs to Dalot, where possession lost importance. When pressed by Moises Caiceido, the duo constantly turned over possession in their own half so Brighton didn’t have much ground to cover on the counter. Caicedo shined by winning two tackles while also making a team-leading three interceptions to make work easy for Brighton’s attack.

Without any pivot help, ten Hag can’t begin to instill his style in the team. Sancho and Rashford were isolated when they needed the ball to run at defences, while Eriksen was better when Ronaldo came into the match as he was allowed to drop deeper into midfield. How Ten Hag will fix this will be interesting to watch as the introduction of Ronaldo also didn’t improve the team’s attack at all.

His transfer saga has been a dark cloud over the team and the fact that he is still part of the team is the worst case scenario for both parties. Playing 37 minutes off the bench, Ronaldo had just one shot and was flagged for offside on one of their best chances. Despite controlling possession, United were unable to get the ball where they wanted to play the game at their pace.

Back after 60 minutes, Ten Hag threw tactics out the window to throw things forward but that made the team easier to defend for Brighton. The attacks on Ronaldo were predictable and the goal conceded by the visitors can be described as crazy. After the ball bounced off Dalot’s back from a corner, Robert Sanchez chipped the ball past McAllister for an unfortunate own goal.

United showed little in the way of positive play the rest of the way, but showed how far they have to go if they want to be a Champions League side. Being associated with Marko Arnautovic Adding to the forward line won’t solve the problems, but playing James Garner maybe more. The young midfielder impressed on loan with Nottingham Forest last season, scoring four goals and providing eight assists in the Championship. He didn’t come into the loss on Sunday, but moving forward, he can provide an option that is better at picking out passes than McTominay and Fred. It wasn’t all bad for United as Martinez had a fine debut but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep a clean sheet with Harry Maguire struggling. Ten Haag’s job was never going to be easy, but he has quite a mountain to climb to turn this ship around and after 90 minutes, his worries are probably mounting.

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