Manager Jose Mourinho’s summer of discontent reached a new low on Sunday when Brighton & Hove Albion inflicted a deserved 3-2 defeat on sorry Manchester United.
Glenn Murray’s artful flick and Shane Duffy’s scrambled effort made it 2-0 to the hosts by 27 minutes.
Romelu Lukaku headed in for the visitors, but Pascal Gross’ penalty-kick before the break was crucial. Paul Pogba then struck his own spot-kick far too deep into second-half injury time.
Goals – 1
Shots – 9
Possession – 67%
Tackles – 13
Dribbles completed – 10
Mourinho was forced into a change to his usual starting side, Anthony Martial replacing the injured Alexis Sanchez on the left flank of a 4-3-3 formation.
A lack of hunger, cohesion and quality was then on show as Brighton roared into a 3-1 lead.
Rash defending was at the heart of the matter. But Mourinho bought both Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, making any excuses ring hollow.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Floundering in the dark
We have now entered the third season of Mourinho’s United reign.
However, there is still no collective identity to his side.
United’s starting midfield in the wretched Pogba plus Brazil call-ups Fred and Andreas Pereira rarely came within 10 metres of each other. This meant no intricate solution could be found to combat Brighton’s excellent press.
All too often, the ball would go long to an isolated Lukaku. The cycle would then repeat of United going nowhere with 67-per-cent possession – as shown by only three shots on target from a paltry nine attempts.
These are old issues being given fresh airing.
10 - This is only the tenth time in Premier League history that Manchester United have conceded three first half goals in a game, and the first time since October 2015 v Arsenal. Porous.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 19, 2018
There is something wrong at the core of United.
A pre-season full of moans from the manager and a lack of activity in the transfer department became real at Amex Stadium. Mourinho bemoaned “big mistakes” in his post-match interviews, yet these were made largely by his signings.
Another question for the boss is why was Pogba the best player for France in the World Cup final, but on Sunday his pass accuracy was just 81.8 per cent and he lost the ball a game-high five times?
Much better is required. You wouldn’t back Mourinho to deliver it at present.
Strikes from Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy gave the hosts a deserving 2-0 lead before Romelu Lukaku pulled one back for the away side. However, a rash challenge from Eric Bailly led to Pascal Gross restoring Brighton’s two-goal advantage in the first half.
Pogba halved the deficit from the spot when Marouane Fellaini was brought down in injury time, but United’s performance reeked of a team completely lacking in direction.
SAME CITY, POLES APART
It won’t have helped Jose Mourinho that Premier League audiences were still catching their breath after the entertainment Manchester City provided against Huddersfield when his side took to the pitch at Brighton and produced a display which was in complete contrast.
City were fluid, completely in sync and simply irresistible as they put six goals past their hapless visitors. United on the other hand were ponderous on the ball, all over the place at the back and couldn’t have been more disjointed if they tried.
When the Citizens are in possession, the man on the ball has several options for short passes. You could connect the surrounding blue shirts and draw a rhombus to denote the plethora of passing avenues he has to chose from. United, however, are so rigid in their structure, that players are far too spaced out, making it difficult to keep the ball moving, let alone string together a series of quick passes.
While Pep Guardiola has been all smiles at the start of the campaign, Mourinho seems to sport a perpetual scowl. The body language on the pitch says a lot about the moods in the two camps as well. Paul Pogba retained the captain’s armband but his performance was hardly worthy of it during a time when his relationship with the manager has been strained. Anthony Martial, also lambasted by Mourinho in pre-season, didn’t look like he wanted to play for the man in the dugout.
Even with Liverpool strengthening over the summer, few would bet on them toppling City this season. But many more would now put United outside of the top four, come the end of the season.
With the Red Devils toiling against modest opposition, who would blame them? Brighton couldn’t muster a single shot on target away to Watford in the opening week, yet scored three past David De Gea.
During the closing stages at the Amex Stadium, chants of “just like Brighton, your city is blue” resonated around the arena. It has to be said, not one player in a red shirt showed anything to the contrary.
UNITED IN REGRESSION
After the consistent highs and glory days under Sir Alex Ferguson, the depths of despair to which United sunk with his successor David Moyes was a reality check. The accomplished Louis van Gaal came in and steadied the ship, slowly improving performances before the team seemed to hit a wall and began to regress.
Mourinho to his credit, showed signs of promise during spells of his first two seasons but as the second began to draw to a close, the style of play deteriorated. As evidenced by their latest display, United don’t only seem to be getting worse.
There’s no identity to the team and their approach is only distinguishable when facing tough opposition as they engineer ways to counter their strategies. Mourinho needs to take stock of how he operates because at the moment, like his predecessor, he is starting to take United backwards.
It all makes sense now. While United fans were crying out for signings in attack over the summer, the club appeared to be consumed with their pursuits of several high-profile centre-backs. Of course, none came to fruition but the intention to sign a defender despite boasting several within their ranks has now come into clarity.
Bailly has largely been impressive for United and seemingly only held back by injuries, while Victor Lindelof looked very good for Sweden at the World Cup.
However, Mourinho must’ve seen things in training that we didn’t. They certainly came to the fore at Brighton.
The pair were disastrous at the back with the Ivorian proving particularly disappointing as he made several rash challenges, including one that conceded a penalty at a crucial juncture in the contest.
Having said that, Mourinho’s tactics are doing them no favours. Even against Brighton, the team seems to sit off and invite the opposition into their defensive third. It’s no wonder the defensive comes under increasing pressure.
Is the third-season rot already setting in for Jose Mourinho? A limp and lax performance from Manchester United saw Brighton run out thoroughly deserved 3-2 winners at Amex Stadium.
The Seagulls never looked back from Glenn Murray’s fine early finish, with defender Shane Duffy doubling the lead before Romelu Lukaku pulled one back for the visitors.
However, there was never any hope of a comeback, as a terrible Eric Bailly error gave Pascal Gross the chance to score from the spot and a late Paul Pogba penalty gave a generous sheen to the scoreline from United’s perspective.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-3)
David De Gea – Least of United’s problems, though surely the organisation of this defence partially falls on his lap. Needs to be more vocal 5
Ashley Young – On to his natural side but his crosses for the most part were aimless and didn’t impose himself defensively, either. 5
Eric Bailly – Inexplicably conceded the corner that led to Brighton’s second and a typical rash challenge gave away the penalty. 3
Victor Lindelof – Scarcely any better than Bailly. Caught sleeping for the opener – he clearly has no connection with his defensive partner. 4
Luke Shaw – Contributed an assist, if you could call it that. Otherwise no attacking impetus and struggled to contain Knockaert. 4
Andreas Pereira – Barely noticeable, but given many of his team-mates’ obvious mistakes, could be worse in the context of the game. 5
Fred – Gave away the ball that led to penalty, but it was a poor pass from De Gea. Even still, he didn’t provide the thrust he was bought for. 5
Paul Pogba – Captain of a sinking ship. Lost the ball numerous times through silly dawdling in midfield and hopeless punts into attacking third. 3
Juan Mata – Made 17 passes in the 45 minutes he was on the field. Supposed to be one of United’s most creative players. No infliuence. 3
Romelu Lukaku – Deft header gave United that glimmer of hope. Pretty clumsy otherwise – but who could blame him in this team? 5
Anthony Martial – Shock call-up to the starting XI with Sanchez injured, but barely looked interested. So much wasted potential. 3
Marcus Rashford (for Mata 46′) – A willing runner, which was refreshing, but couldn’t convert endeavour into end product. 6
Jesse Lingard (for Pereira 46′) – Neat and tidy on the ball – however United need cutting edge, not cleanliness. 5
Marouane Fellaini (for Martial 60′) – You know it’s going wrong for United when Fellaini is brought on up top. 5
Mat Ryan – Decent save from Pogba in second half, though so dismal were United they got just that shot and the two goals on target. 6
Martin Montoya – Locked down Martial and had a commanding presence down that right flank. Gutsy display. 7
Shane Duffy – Striker’s finish for Brighton’s second and put his body on line in defence, though clumsy foul for penalty. 8
Lewis Dunk – Seagulls leader hobbled off early in the first half after giving the ball away. His team did a mighty fine job without him. 5
Gaetan Bong – Back in the team after Bernardo’s poor performance and acquitted himself well. But it was hardly a United onslaught. 7
Anthony Knockaert – Gives Seagulls the X factor. Put opener on plate for Murray, fouled four times as visitors couldn’t cope. 8
Dale Stephens – Workmanlike in midfield and that’s no knock on him. Superb workrate. Careless with the ball on occasion. 7
Davy Propper – Made seven tackles as he and Stephens hounded the lackadaisical Red Devils. Has an enviable engine. 8
Solly March – His corner caused chaos, which led to Duffy’s swept finish. Maintained his discipline throughout. 7
Pascal Gross – Drew the foul from Bailly for the penalty that ultimately won the game. A touch of class in the attacking third. 8
Glenn Murray – One shot, one goal. That shot was delicately diverted over a sprawling De Gea. Never needs a hatful of chances. 7
Leon Balogun (for Dunk, 20′) – Unexpected early substitution but wasn’t caught cold. Four tackles, three interceptions, five clearances. 8
Beram Kayal (for Gross, 90′) – N/A
Jurgen Locadia (for Murray 90+3′) – N/A