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
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.