Erik Ten Hag and United have been having a turbulent time this past week to say the least. And Brighton made sure to pile on even more, as De Zerbi’s men breezed through Manchester United in a comfortable 3-1 win against the Red Devils at Old Trafford.
Six changes were made to the United side that lost 1-3 to Arsenal on their last matchday. And this time around, they had young Dane Rasmus Hojlund coming in to make his first start at Old Trafford, along with loanee Spainiard Reguilon.
And the new signings definitely made their presence be known, as Hojlund’s physicality allowed United’s midfielders to breathe and create chances left, right and centre for the Danish forward. Reguilon’s overlapping coupled with the freedom Marcus Rashford was now presented with on the left flank made for a menacing combination as United and Rashford kept on piling in the crosses from the flank in hopes of finding the Danish striker.
But, Brighton held on tight even in the midst of a frustrating 10 minutes of the game where they saw very less of the ball.
Ten Hag’s decision to play a 4-3-2-1 finally addressed the dire issue that has been plaguing Uinted: their inability to unlock their midfield potential.
Pairing Casemiro along with Scott McTominay, yet another defensive-minded midfielder, also ensured that the likes of Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes were left to themselves to play their natural attacking game.
The change of formation definitely reflected on the pitch as well, as both Eriksen and Fernandes kept toying at the Brighton midfield, playing menacing passes all game along to cut through the Brighton defense and create looks for Rasmus Hojlund.
But, Brighton’s discipline throughout the game cannot be understated here. De Zerbi’s men braved themselves through all that was thrown at them and maintained their composure, holding up as much possession as possible and slowing down the game to drain some of the momentum United possessed.
And when no-one expected it the least, Brighton sprung onto the first chance they got and capitalized off it to score a wonderfully constructed team goal.
Former United man Danny Welbeck slotted the ball into the back of the net from build-up that hit United out of the blue. Brighton overloaded the midfield as they pressed ahead and a lack of awareness from the United midfield meant that no-one could catch Welbeck lurking.
The momentum of the game did not shift majorly per se, as United still stuck to their guns and played through the period, but Brighton now played with a renewed elegance and composure, frustrating the home side with their calm build-up plays, as they regained a good chunk of possession from the home side.
A glimpse of hope found its way through the dark for United in the 4oth minute as Hojlund tapped in a poacher’s goal from point-blank range, But unfortunately, Rashford had the ball mere centimeters out of play before he played the pass in to Hojlund. So, the goal was ruled off.
Rashford though continued to be an issue for Brighton. The Englishman was able to effortlessly cut through the flanks whenever he pleased and kept on lashing shots toward goal but alas, he lacked the composure to threaten the keeper most times.
De Zerbi’s commitment to abiding by their plan and trusting the process paid off in spades yet again when in the 53rd minute, club record scorer Pascal Gross put away yet another goal into the back of United’s net, as Brighton hit United from their slumber out of nowhere again.
To say that United were scrambling after the second goal would be an understatement. A flurry of chances followed with Bruno and Eriksen playing any and every ball in possible, but the home team just lacked the precision whilst their opponents stuck to their game plan perfectly, in order to create any discernable change in the game.
To add to the misery of the fans, Ten Hag brought in Anthony Martial for Rasmus Hojlund as the home crowd yelled in shock and disappointment. Meanwhile, Brighton’s squad suddenly looked even more threatening as attacker Joao Pedro and loanee Ansu Fati came in to make his debut for the side.
And Brighton’s rejuvenated attack took to the wearied United side as substitute Joao Pedro slotted in a wondrous finish in the 71st minute to put United down for the count once and for all.
The crowds stared dispersing at this point. But suddenly, United’s substitute Hannibal Mejbri pulled off a stunner from long range in the 73rd minute to bring the deficit back down to two.
But, this did not faze Brighton at the slightest, as they kept on piling the pressure and forcing Onana to stay on his toes at all times.
United’s lackadasical demeanor on defense towards the last quarter of the game cost them any glimpse of victory they might have had. Whilst advances has been made in the way the Red Devils attack, it seemingly has come with a lack of a clear-minded approach to breaking up opposition counter-attacks, or rather defending them effectively.
Brighton will go home with a more than well-deserved three points and a healthy dose of confidence as they push further up the Premier League table into the top four, while United still struggle to climb their way out of the hole they dug for themselves at the bottom half.