Manchester United welcomed Brighton & Hove Albion to Old Trafford today, with Erik ten Hag keen to get his side back to winning ways following their defeat at the hands of Arsenal just before the international break.
The United boss, faced with multiple injuries to a number of key stars and other players ruled out of the game due to off-the-pitch issues, had a selection dilemma on his hands.
He named Andre Onana in goal with a defensive quartet of Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof, Lisandro Martinez and Sergio Reguilon ahead of the Cameroonian.
In midfield Ten Hag started Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes.
United’s forward men consisted of Marcus Rashford and Rasmus Hojlund.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 3-1 defeat against Brighton.
Ten Hag forced to compromise tactically
As mentioned, with many players out of action, Ten Hag was forced to be clever in his efforts to sink a formidable Premier League opponent in Brighton.
The likes of Amad Diallo, Mason Mount, Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw, Tyrell Malacia and Sofyan Amrabat were all rendered unavailable due to injury.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka fell ill during the week and was judged not fit enough to start vs. Brighton.
Antony was granted a leave of absence so as to focus on clearing his face amidst allegations of assault from three different women.
Jadon Sancho who has been involved in a bitter public spat with Ten Hag was banished from the first team and made to train alone. He was not included in the matchday squad.
All these circumstances made Ten Hag slightly diverge from the manner in which he usually sets up his team.
At times, it seemed like United were structured in a 4-4-2 formation, with Rashford and Hojlund the primary attackers.
In instances, McTominay found himself on the right flank, as did Fernandes.
However, the two mostly hovered in the middle of the park, just ahead of Eriksen and Casemiro who was of course his side’s deepest-lying midfielder.
What stuck out was just how much United lacked width, especially on the right. Rashford and Reguilon provided the needed width on the left side but it was a totally different story on the other channel.
It squarely fell on Dalot’s shoulders to provide width, but he was limited in this due to his defensive responsibilities.
It was crystal clear a right-winger was needed but with Antony, Sancho and Amad out, the only other natural right-winger left on the club’s books was Facundo Pellistri. The Uruguayan was on the bench.
Even more disappointing is that Brighton still managed to rip through United despite the abundance of numbers in midfield.
Towards the end of the game and with Brighton 3-1 up, United were all over the place and Fernandes even found himself at centre-back. Such was the level of confusion!
Ten Hag’s move to compromise certainly did not pay off.
Brighton’s three goals came about as a result of poor defending from United. All three goals could have easily been avoided.
In the first, a low cross from Simon Adingra was allowed to run inside the United box. Lindelof tried to intervene but could not get a touch of the ball.
An unmarked Danny Welbeck who was rushing inside the box got on the end of it to give his side the lead.
That Welbeck was left on his own will have undoubtedly left Ten Hag angry and bitterly disappointed.
For Brighton’s second, Pascal Groß was allowed to weave his way inside the United box. He was then afforded the opportunity to come up with a brilliant piece of skill to take Martinez out of the game before finding the bottom-left corner of Andre Onana’s goal.
Brighton’s third came about as a consequence of United being lethargic in their tracking back and once again, leaving a rival player unmarked inside the box.
The Seagulls pinched the ball of a United star and instantly went forward. United, seemingly not alive to their predicament were slow in getting back and offering defensive support.
Lamptey was permitted to pass the ball to an unmarked Joao Pedro who had the time and space to pick his spot.
The Reds were poor at the back and were made to pay by Brighton. So far, this has been an issue this season.
That the same problems remain persistent is a huge worry. Even more so considering that United face Bayern Munich next in the Champions League.
United in crisis
United are certainly in crisis both on and off the pitch.
The defeat against Brighton has left the club in 12th position, with a goal difference of minus four. Several teams below United are still yet to play this weekend.
So far this term, United have suffered three defeats out of their five Premier League games.
The most worrying thing is that the performances are extremely below-par and unconvincing. It suits what the club is going through off the pitch as well.
The situations of the likes of Antony and Sancho are typical examples of United’s struggles away from the pitch.
It’s clear these issues are having an effect on performances. It’s important that the Reds fix up soon lest they they endure further misery.
It could get worse if United are also beaten by Bayern on Wednesday.