A first-half double from Pascal Gross was enough to sink Manchester United in Erik Ten Hag’s first Premier League game, with the Reds’ consolation goal not enough in a dismal 1-2 defeat against Brighton on Sunday.
How did United set up?
It was announced a couple of days ago that Anthony Martial is set for a spell on the sidelines after picking up an injury. Also absent from the matchday squad were Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly, so the opportunity presented itself for Lisandro Martinez to make his Premier League debut.
There was lots of talk before the game as to whether or not Cristiano Ronaldo would start having had just 45 minutes of football in pre-season. The Portuguese superstar was controversially benched, allowing Christian Eriksen a spot in the starting lineup in what seemed like a false-9 formation that was interchangeable amongst the front players.
Here were the starting lineup and substitutes…
Starting XI: David De Gea (GK), Diogo Dalot (RB), Harry Maguire (CB), Lisandro Martinez (CB), Luke Shaw (LB), Scott McTominay (CM), Fred (CM), Bruno Fernandes (CAM), Jadon Sancho (RW), Marcus Rashford (LW), Christian Eriksen (CF).
Subs: Tom Heaton, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Tyrell Malacia, James Garner, Donny van de Beek, Anthony Elanga, Alejandro Garnacho, Cristiano Ronaldo.
How it went down
There was an early scare for Dalot after he lost the ball in the opening seconds, but the opportunity came to nothing, much to the relief of the Stretford End.
The big opportunity of the half for United came in the 7th minute. Following McTominay finding himself in space on the right, the Scotsman’s deflected cross found its way to Fernandes in the area, but it was high and wide from the former Sporting Lisbon man.
Fred spared his own blushes after losing the ball deep inside United’s half, but he was fortunate to make a recovery challenge in what was a nervy moment.
Brighton were growing into the game before the half-hour mark, with the home team struggling to create openings. A counterattack from United came to nothing in the 24th minute when Eriksen failed to connect well enough with the strike.Embed from Getty Images
It was the Seagulls who took the lead in the 30th minute when former United man Danny Welbeck found himself in behind, managing to square it to Gross at the far post who tapped home unmarked.
Graham Potter’s side doubled their lead when Solly March’s effort was palmed away from De Gea into the path of Gross once more, and the German struck into the roof of the net to make it an unforeseen double in the 39th minute.
Boos rang out from each tier of the ground as United went in at the break.
There were no changes from Ten Hag at the break, much to the bemusement of many.
A teasing Eriksen cross could not be met by Rashford within the early stages of the second half, and Maguire and Trossard were both booked not long afterwards following an altercation in the middle of the field. Ronaldo was then brought into the fray in place of Fred in the 53rd minute.
The substitute found himself involved quickly after finding himself beyond the Brighton backline on the right wing. His cross to Rashford was inch-perfect, but the underwhelming Englishman could not finish beyond the Brighton stopper from close range.
It was another head-in-hands moment for Rashford soon afterwards when he sent Fernandes’ good cross high above the bar on the back post.Embed from Getty Images
The 68th minute saw United earn a consolation goal when Robert Sanchez made a real mess of the attacking corner. The Spaniard failed to deal with it, with Dalot bundling it towards goal, only for Alexis Mac Allister to turn into his own net in a calamitous fashion.
At long last, McTominay- on a yellow card- was removed from the pitch in place of van de Beek as United looked to get an equaliser.
The Reds did ramp up the pressure, but their best effort from Martinez was blocked by Lewis Dunk as the game quickly fizzled out. Malacia, Elanga and Garnacho were on for stoppage time, but Brighton saw out a deserved win at the Theatre of Dreams.
Final score: Manchester United 1-2 Brighton and Hove Albion (Mac Alister 68’ OG) (Gross 30’, 39’)
Man of the matchEmbed from Getty Images
Christian Eriksen was certainly the best of an underwhelming bunch against Brighton.
The 30-year-old was making his Premier League debut for his new club, and he showed his quality in moments throughout the match with teasing crosses and tidy link-up play.
The Danish midfielder dropped deeper following the removal of Fred from the pitch for the introduction of Ronaldo, and he was probing well from the deeper positions, often finding those out wide on the flanks and sometimes choosing to cross or shoot himself.
Hopefully, there is more to come from Eriksen, as United need their better technical players to perform as soon as possible.
The bigger pictureEmbed from Getty Images
Different season, same old problems. Fred and McTominay were abysmal from their first minutes to their last in the season opener. How the hierarchy at United have the nerve to talk about backing a new manager whilst not providing a new midfielder is a criminal offence. Many fans thought a midfielder or two was needed when Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba were at the club. Those two have since gone and have not been replaced. It could be argued that United need three or four midfielders to be brutally honest.
But it would be unfair to blame just McTominay and Fred for the slump against the Seagulls. Fernandes was inexplicably poor at times, often struggling to make a simple pass or make a cross when it was required. Rashford is so predictable at this point, and the 24-year-old could not hit the ocean from a boat nowadays.Embed from Getty Images
Fans and pundits are not surprised, though. Three signings have been made. The only ‘essential’ one if you like is Martinez as a left-footed centre-back. Eriksen is a luxury on a free and Malacia provides depth at left-back, and none of the new players should be discredited, but way more should have been done so far.
The image of Avram Glazer, Richard Arnold and John Murtough was a thoroughly depressing sight for millions of viewers who once again have been sold a dream by incompetent frauds who know next to nothing about the occupation they find themselves in.
Ten Hag was not flawless himself on his debut bow, but the bigger issue lies with those upstairs. The Dutchman needs to work a miracle as it stands.
Next up for Manchester United is Brentford at the Gtech Community Stadium. The game takes place next Saturday, August 13th at 17:30 (BST).