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
This is supposed to be Alexis Sanchez‘s season.
He had his first full summer break since the World Cup 2014, thanks to Chile’s failure to qualify for this summer’s tournament. He also had his first pre-season with his new club, having joined Manchester United from Arsenal in January. Both of these were indicators that he’d improve upon his poor first few months at United.
But Sanchez’s performance in his team’s season opener last Friday against Leicester City left a lot to be desired.
It was a familiar tale of running hard, trying to pull off the spectacular, but looking disjointed next to team-mates who are no longer new faces to him. As one would expect from Sanchez, there were a few moments of quality, but by and large, United’s attacks died when the ball found its way to the Chilean, with misplaced passes and poor crosses the norm.
It wasn’t an all-out poor display, he created four chances – more than anyone else. But it just wasn’t the brilliance people expect from Sanchez. And that’s been the story of his time at United.
Alexis Sánchez created 4 chances against Leicester City. Only Eriksen & Holebas (both 5) managed more in the opening Premier League fixtures. pic.twitter.com/0gq3yI25P2— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) August 14, 2018
So far, in 19 appearances, he’s scored three goals and provided five assists. It’s a rate of contribution that would see most players dropped, and it’s certainly far below what manager Jose Mourinho would have expected when immediately making him a starting XI player upon arrival.
Sanchez earned that spot through the pedigree of his Premier League success. He’s one season removed from scoring 24 league goals for Arsenal.
If he can be that player in this United team, all questions about whether they can close the gap to reigning champions Manchester City will be gone.
And therein lies the Catch-22 with Sanchez. United don’t need 24 goals from him, but they do need him to hit that level of performance in order to be title contenders.
Based on his current form, however, they’ll struggle to earn that tag.
That’s why this season is so crucial for the former Udinese and Barcelona man. At 29, he should be at his peak – especially considering the extended rest this summer.
He’s an established star in England, the sort of player who could drag Arsenal to top-four finishes, at times seemingly by sheer force of willpower.
The hope for both United, who landed him, and City, who were competing for his signature, was that adding a player like that to a better side would mean aiding a title push instead of just about pulling his team into fourth place.
Instead, Sanchez has struggled to build an understanding with Romelu Lukaku – the player who is expected to produce that 20-goal output – and, most crucially, Paul Pogba. Sanchez’s tendency to drop deep in search of the ball at times puts him in the exact same positions Pogba likes taking up, both with and without the ball, and at the moment that is resulting in a clash of styles.
The more the two play together, the more they’ll learn how to be excellent foils for each other while servicing Lukaku with the assistance he needs. Together, Sanchez, Pogba, and Lukaku make a trio that can be the axis of a title-winning trio.
Sanchez should be a guiding force for the two younger members of that trident. The ability he’s shown to take a game by the scruff of its neck consistently is something both Pogba and Lukaku can learn. But for that to happen, he needs to show that ability in United colours on a regular basis.
If he does that, he’ll win over the fans, as well. United supporters were obviously excited when Sanchez arrived, especially given the added needle of him having chosen to come to Old Trafford rather than play for noisy neighbours City.
And just as obviously, they want him to do well.
Alexis Sánchez lost possession more times (23) than any other Man Utd player against Leicester.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 10, 2018
Even José Mourinho was getting angry. 😳 pic.twitter.com/dOtjAftD9e
But they haven’t quite warmed to him, because he hasn’t delivered up to expectations, instead producing frustrating display after frustrating display. That he’s keeping out Anthony Martial, a darling of the United faithful, from the starting XI hasn’t endeared him to his new fans either.
He needs to start delivering immediately to win their support.
There’s a chance Sanchez misses Sunday’s game against Brighton – he didn’t travel with the squad on Saturday.
In which case, the crucial fixture against Tottenham, looming large as United’s first big game of the season, is the stage where he can begin to repay the faith his manager has in him.
All will be forgiven if he finds top form. But Sanchez is already at the stage where that’s a make-or-break proposition.
The Red Devils opened up with a 2-1 home win against Leicester City last week, while the Seagulls had their wings clipped in a 2-0 defeat at Watford.
Ahead of the game, we look at three key talking points:
Better call Paul
Superb on the opening day against Leicester, Paul Pogba seemed to undermine his own performance in the aftermath when he alluded to getting in trouble if he were to lift the lid on things behind the scenes at Old Trafford.
For all the criticism thrown Jose Mourinho’s way in handling his United players, Pogba isn’t entirely blameless. He will know himself he was way below the standards expected of an £89m player when he was in and out of the side last season. And his latest comments were hardly conducive to a drama-free start to the season for all concerned at Old Trafford.
It would be great to see Pogba – like last week – let his feet rather than his mouth do the talking, and put in another commanding performance.
United – bar the visit of fellow top-four contenders Spurs next weekend – have a kind start to the campaign.
And a Pogba-inspired charge towards a possible title tilt would work wonders in quashing the summer’s doom and gloom while at the same time quelling Mourinho’s moans.
On the back of a rousing World Cup win in Russia, Pogba’s sumptuous performance against Leicester had United fans purring. His comments post-match against the Foxes, however, were more than a little sly.
It undid much of his brilliance. After firing in a fine penalty to give them the lead, his was a performance full of craft, cunning, courage and confidence. More of the same this week please Paul.
Is Rom Luk-ing towards Premier League history?
Romelu Lukaku would probably be the first person to admit his technical ability still needs some work – but the man is a pure goalscorer, of that there is no doubt.
The Belgian has only just turned 25 yet is one of just 28 players to have found the back of the net 100 times or more in the Premier League.
He has 101 goals in 220 games. Only Harry Kane (108 in 153 games), Sergio Aguero (143 in 206) and Jermain Defoe (162 in 491) are those ahead of him who are still playing. His ratio of a goal every 0.46 minutes places him joint seventh.
If he were to match last season’s haul of 16 he would shoot up to 18th place on the list by the end of this campaign – overtaking such illustrious names as Didier Drogba, Paul Scholes and Ian Wright along the way.
The question is, how much farther can he go? All the way to the top, Alan Shearer’s 260? Doubtful perhaps, but he, and Kane, should realistically push the Newcastle and England icon close.
Say what you will about United’s boring style of play under Mourinho or their general travails since Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit, they will always be challenging for the trophy at the business end of seasons.
Lukaku, as evidenced by last season’s tally, will be provided with a steadier stream of chances at Old Trafford than at Goodison Park. As he matures as a player and hones his game, we should also expect his scoring prowess to improve.
Let’s see if he can get off to a flying start against the Seagulls.
Will the real Jahanbakhsh please stand up
After a scintillating season at club level in 2017/18, it’s safe to say a lot was expected of Alireza Jahanbakhsh heading into the World Cup.
His Eredivisie campaign with relative minnows AZ Alkmaar – the club have won the Dutch top-flight twice (1980/81 and 2008/09 in their modest 51-year history) – was nothing short of stunning. In 39 games in all competitions he rocketed in 22 goals.
During three seasons in the north of the Netherlands, the 25-year-old notched 34 league goals in 85 games and 37 in 111 total appearances.
Three in 29 during his maiden 2015/16 campaign ratcheted up to 12 in 43 a year later before he really turned it on last term. Not bad at all, especially for a winger/attacking midfielder.
Let’s talk about assists. Jahanbakhsh registered 12 in 33 outings. Brighton, it seems, have got some player on their hands.
They will hope to get more from him than Iran did in Russia. Perhaps we should temper our criticism. Iran are a side built on defensive solidity by Carlos Queiroz and their opponents contained the 2010 world champions Spain and reigning European champions Portugal, as well as African heavyweights Morocco. So we were hardly likely to witness Jahanbakhsh at his swashbuckling best.
He made his Brighton bow in a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Watford last week, emerging for a 20-minute cameo from the bench.
He only touched the ball eight times yet made one key pass – which jointly led Brighton – and went on one dribble. With the Seagulls tipped by many to struggle to soar to last season’s heights, the Iranian schemer’s skill could prove pivotal.