Alarm bells are ringing for dismal Manchester United… Erik ten Hag’s spent £400m on new players, but the team is going BACKWARDS
- Manchester United are already in disarray five games into the new season
- Their poor start to the season continued with the 3-1 defeat to Brighton
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off’
When Erik ten Hag lost his first match as Manchester United manager to Brighton at Old Trafford a year ago, there was the same feeling of pain and bewilderment that hung over the place on Saturday.
That was at the start of Ten Hag’s journey with United, though. The Dutchman had three new signings through the door, but the big money had yet to be spent on Antony and Casemiro.
Ten Hag dusted himself down from that opening defeat by Brighton and an excruciating embarrassment at Brentford a week later to end his first season with a third-place finish and the Carabao Cup. He has credit in the bank.
United did not lose another Premier League game at Old Trafford for more than 13 months until the Seagulls returned here on Saturday and did what seagulls do from a great height on those careless enough not to see it coming.
And that’s what makes United’s dismal start all the more alarming. Ten Hag is no longer the new guy navigating his way through a difficult start. This is his United now and £400millon has been spent to that end. Brighton’s starting line-up here cost £17m. It is a worrying thought for United fans, but are their team actually going backwards?
Manchester United’s dismal start is all the more alarming as this is Erik ten Hag’s squad
Three defeats in the first five games is United’s worst run of results at this stage since 1989
United were out of sorts against a well-organised Brighton side on another poor day
Certainly, the cacophony of boos that met Ten Hag’s decision to cut short Rasmus Hojlund’s full debut and send on Anthony Martial marked the first time that supporters have turned on the manager in any way.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-1-2-1-2): Onana 6; Dalot 6, Lindelof 4, Martinez 5 (Wan-Bissaka 85min), Reguilon 5 (Garnacho 85); Casemiro 5 (Mejbri 64); McTominay 4.5 (Pellistri 85), Eriksen 5.5; Fernandes 4.5; Rashford 6.5, Hojlund 6 (Martial 64).
Scorer: Mejbri 73.
Booked: Fernandes, Mejbri.
Manager: Erik ten Hag 4.
BRIGHTON (4-2-3-1): Steele 6; Lamptey 7.5 (Milner 77), Dunk 7.5, Van Hecke 6.5, Veltman 6.5; Gross 8, Dahoud 7 (Gilmour 77, 6); Adingra 6.5 (Ferguson 85), Lallana 6.5 (Fati 64, 6), Mitoma 7.5; Welbeck 7.5 (Pedro 64).
Scorers: Welbeck 20, Gross 53, Pedro 71.
Booked: Van Hecke, Lamptey.
Manager: Roberto De Zerbi 7.
Referee: Jarred Gillett 6.5.
Ten Hag’s claim afterwards that the crowd’s reaction was a ‘positive’ for Hojlund smacked of a man desperately trying to see the glass half full. It was a peculiar point of view, as was his assertion that United were somehow unfortunate to lose a game in which they were largely outplayed.
‘Such small margins,’ he argued, though others would differ. ‘Have you seen the game? Did you see Arsenal and Spurs? That could have been the other way. But we have to crack it by ourselves. We can’t blame anyone else. We have to do better.
‘Sometimes you are in bad periods where we are now, and then you have to deal with that. At this moment, we don’t deal with it that well.
‘Pressure is always there. It was last year and this year is no different. At United you have to win your games. It’s my job to focus on the performance of the team and improve the way of play. I can’t be distracted.’
Yet it feels as though there have been nothing but distractions clouding Ten Hag’s world recently. The takeover saga at United, Mason Greenwood and the off-the-field issues that meant Jadon Sancho and Antony weren’t available to him for this game.
In the absence of his two right wingers, the United boss played a narrower midfield diamond to try to stem Brighton’s flow through the middle of the pitch.
With his team trailing 3-1 to goals from United old boy Danny Welbeck, Pascal Gross and Joao Pedro, Ten Hag finally looked to his bench for width and sent on Alejandro Garnacho, Facundo Pellistri and Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the 85th minute. It was far too late and again felt like muddled thinking.
Marcus Rashford had clipped the bar in the first half and was then ruled by VAR to have taken the ball over the line before setting up Hojlund for what have been his first goal. That would have made the score 1-1 and United had fallen 3-0 behind by the time Hannibal Mejbri gave them the scantest of consolations as they suffered a fourth straight Premier League defeat to Brighton. Yes, you read that correctly.
Brighton were by far the better team as they inflicted another damaging defeat on Man United
It feels as though there have been nothing but distractions clouding Ten Hag’s world recently
Three defeats in the first five games is also United’s worst run of results at this stage of the season since 1989 when that ‘Ta Ra Fergie’ banner appeared in the Stretford End.
No one is suggesting that Ten Hag has entered that kind of territory yet, but crises can engulf football clubs very quickly and none more so than United.
On the eve of this game he spoke about the start of the season always being a struggle, and so it is proving again. Any talk of a title challenge has been rendered laughable, and finishing in the top four is already looking like the limit of United’s aspirations.
It doesn’t get any easier, either. The Champions League campaign gets under way against Bayern Munich in Bavaria on Wednesday, and Harry Kane will be licking his lips at the opportunity to show United and Ten Hag what they could have had.
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