My 3 Thoughts on Manchester United-Brighton
The Erik ten Hag era starts with a 2-1 loss at Old Trafford
New Man United coach Erik ten Hag had his home debut ruined by two Pascal Gross goals in the first half, and Brighton won 2-1 at Old Trafford on Sunday. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• The Man United midfield was painfully mediocre—until Christian Eriksen moved there. You’d think after a few years of Scott McTominay and Fred starting in the central midfield together that United would be in a position to upgrade by now, but for some reason that hasn’t happened. This game was lost in the first half when Brighton controlled the proceedings and United’s midfield did little to possess and help set up wingers Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford (who were more or less anonymous). And while I can see the idea behind starting Eriksen as a false nine, he’s much more valuable to this team as a creative spark in the central midfield—as we saw when he moved there in the second half and Cristiano Ronaldo came on as the center-forward. By then, though, it was too late. It’s only one game, obviously, but there is such a thing as a tone-setter, and getting three points at home to start his tenure was important for Ten Hag. Coming away with zero is a giant downer for a team that desperately wants to finish in the top four this season.
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• Give some credit to Brighton. Graham Potter’s team had to grit its teeth and hold on for the three points, but this was a deserved win. Former United forward Danny Welbeck was active throughout, assisted on Gross’s opening goal after a well-timed run and probably should have earned a penalty when he was toppled by Lisandro Martínez in the box. Aside from a chaotic let-down in the box that allowed United to pull a goal back in the second half, Brighton’s defending was solid, and Brighton’s central midfield play was simply better than United’s on the day. Let’s hand out some specific praise to Moisés Caicedo, who had several moments of quality that made you remember why so many teams were interested in signing him a couple years ago. Brighton had a terrific campaign last season and ended up finishing ninth, and if they keep this going there’s no reason they can’t do it again or even edge up the table just a bit higher.
• The coming days are going to be fascinating for United. A home loss in the season’s opening game will only ratchet up the pressure on everyone at the club. What happens now with Ronaldo? Does he start the next game? Or does Sunday’s result hasten United’s desire to accommodate Ronaldo’s wishes and move him somewhere ASAP while doing something to address the center-forward position? Do United’s central midfield woes cause the club to move even faster to try and acquire Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona and end one of the stranger transfer sagas of recent years? And can somebody instill some confidence in Rashford and Sancho? Two of the most exciting English players of their generation seem like shadows of their former selves, and it’s hard not to blame the club for a lot of that. Yes, it’s only one game, but this project looks like it could be a long one for Ten Hag and everyone at a club that also looks like a shadow of its former self.
What are your thoughts on the game? You can join the discussion in the comments below.
As a Dortmund fan, it is sad to see Sancho so toothless in attack.
I cannot tell you how upset I am about this MEASLY United performance. In the first half, we were worse than abysmal. Our midfield did not exist. I have no idea why the club has not made the revamping of the midfield a priority. It was woeful much of last season and sure enough it picks up seamlessly where it left off! I have no idea what happened to Rashford and his confidence. He went from a world-class striker to a pale shadow of himself. Sancho never settled with United and still has not found his place. Somehow the deterioration of Bruno and Rashford bespeaks something deeply problematic with the club! Dissent within? Bruno, too, was this shining light. I remember how you, Grant, discussed him in May 2021 when I was on your podcast. Full of praise and designating him United's top player. What happened? As you say, it is early days and one loss doesn't mean the world BUT and this is a BIG BUT, it's a tone and trend setter and, above all, a warning sign for game after next when none other than Liverpool will appear at Old Trafford -- and we all know what happened at their last visit. Soccer is a game of inspiration and United lacked that totally today! I am very sad