Manchester United 1-3 Brighton analysed: Ten Hag booed as home side outclassed

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Manchester United suffered their first league home defeat since the start of last season with an insipid performance against Brighton. Despite a bright start, Erik ten Hag’s team lost 1-3, with the visitors scoring too easily and the manager’s removal of Rasmus Hojlund booed.

The defeat means United have now lost three matches this season and head into this week’s Champions League group game against Bayern Munich on the back of two losses.

Home fans left Old Trafford early to cap a dismal week for the club, who saw Antony stay in Brazil after being accused of assault and Jadon Sancho banished from the first team.

Here is what three of our experts made of the game.

How worried should United fans be?

Laurie Whitwell: For the first time in Ten Hag’s tenure, fans showed dissent to one of his decisions. When Hojlund was announced as the player to come off in Ten Hag’s first round of substitutions on 64 minutes, Old Trafford let out a collective boo that lingered until the Danish striker reached the touchline, when the noise turned to applause at appreciation for a committed full debut.

It might have been in the plan to remove Hojlund an hour into the match, after his back injury, but the displeasure among supporters was significant. There were more boos at the final whistle.

Ten Hag finished with a hodgepodge team where Alejandro Garnacho and Facundo Pellistri were wing-backs and Hannibal the No 10. Hannibal scored, but relying on him for a comeback cannot have been in the plan. It was Brighton who ended stronger, with Ansu Fati drawing a fine save from Andre Onana when clean through and the concern for United supporters is that players they relied on last season look off the pace.

Casemiro looked tired again and was also taken off, while Lisandro Martinez was completely outmanouvred by Pascal Gross for Brighton’s second. Onana should have saved Joao Pedro’s goal.

The worry for United is that Brighton looked a team years ahead of United despite making several changes to their team. “We want our ball back,” sang Brighton fans at one stage late one when United had some possession.

What was so bad about the performance?

Ahmed Walid: After an opening 15 minutes where United’s intensity without the ball and attacking threat on it provided hope for their fans, everything changed.

Brighton & Hove Albion’s centre-backs, Lewis Dunk and Jan Paul van Hecke positioning themselves wider in the build up allowed Robert de Zerbi’s side to play through the press, and after Danny Welbeck’s opener, Brighton controlled the remaining of the first half.

The intensity dropping wasn’t the only problem facing United. On the ball, United didn’t have a clear attacking solution apart from playing the ball into Marcus Rashford on the counters and, despite creating chances from those situations, the England forward failed to hit the back of the net.

In the second half it was more of the same, Brighton’s ability to easily play through the United press allowed them to add two more goals before Hannibal Mejbri’s strike put some life into the home side. However, because United don’t have a clear attacking plan when the opponent is dropping into their own penalty area, they failed to get back in the game. On top of that, Ten Hag’s side weak ability from set-pieces only leaves them with counter-attacks and runs from midfield as their attacking threat, which isn’t enough for a side that is looking to improve their game on the ball.

Was Hojlund’s performance something to feel happier about?

Carl Anka: It says a lot about the state of modern Manchester United that Hojlund can look remarkable for some of the most basic actions.

The 20-year-old looks every inch the prototypical modern target man. He is devastatingly quick running in a straight line. At 6ft 2in he is able to go toe-to-toe with the most physical defenders in the league and still get a toe on to the end of things at the near post.

He’s raw, but willing. Able to press from the front, able to sprint at full pace. Willing to gamble on speculative balls into the box to try to score.
Hojlund managed 15 touches across just over an hour (64 minutes) of play and there were again promising signs of a partnership between Hojlund and Marcus Rashford. If the Englishman is to be the side’s dynamic ball carrier in the half spaces, then the Dane is to be the physically dominant focal point, moving in and around the penalty spot.

Hojlund looked on the verge of having a dream Old Trafford debut, tucking away a pulled-back pass from Rashford in the 42nd minute to give United a chance of overturning things headed into the second half. Unfortunately, VAR intervened and judged Rashford to have taken the ball over the left byline before crossing the ball.

If there is a ray of light from this defeat (outside of Hannibal’s long-range screamer), it will come from Hojlund’s energy and industry. He and Rashford are on the cusp of something. Ten Hag may need the young striker to help him recover a season at risk of spinning out of control.

Further reading on Manchester United

(Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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