Manchester United‘s season got off to the worst possible start under Erik ten Hag. All the excitement of pre-season and a new manager evaporated as Old Trafford became a stage for Ten Hag’s worst nightmares.
Employed on a ticket of “proactive” (his word) pressing football, the exact opposite was on display until a rally that drew a farcical consolation but proved too late in the final 22 minutes.
Brighton simply gave the Dutchman an uncompromising welcome to the Premier League. Leandro Trossard, Danny Welbeck, and Pascal Gross were their stars in what was an impressive visit from Graham Potter’s men. At any moment it seemed like they would score so Ten Hag and his players have to rouse themselves for next weekend’s visit to Brentford before hosting Liverpool in the next home fixture.
United might have registered as early as the sixth minute. Jadon Sancho moved inside and poked the ball to Scott McTominay who had taken up his right-wing berth. He found Bruno Fernandes but the No 8 blazed over from only yards out. Before this, 15 seconds in, Diogo Dalot had dithered, allowing Trossard to let fly. He hit the side-netting but moments after Fernandes’s miss the No 11 was gifted the ball in a similar area: again United escaped.
nightmare start as Gross fires Brighton to victory at Manchester United
Before this season opener, the latest protests from United supporters had caused the club shop to be closed as a crowd thronged the area in front of the superstore: this will have been noted by Avram Glazer, a co-owner making a rare visit and who watched on from the directors’ box. For his inaugural Premier League XI, Ten Hag solved the problem of Anthony Martial’s hamstring injury-enforced absence by selecting Christian Eriksen at No 9; the ploy did not work.
Considering Ten Hag has drilled his charges to close down from day one, the lax marking will have infuriated: one Brighton attack had Trossard dallying in a crowded area before chipping the ball towards Moisés Caicedo with Lisandro Martínez, like Eriksen making his Premier League debut for United, half-asleep. When, later, Alexis MacAllister pulled the trigger, Eriksen did press but this opening occurred because Trossard was again allowed room down to cross.
He was instrumental in Brighton’s opening goal, which was also the result of United’s leakiness. The first blunder came from a McTominay surge when he collided with a Brighton sandwich. Trossard threaded the ball to the effervescent Welbeck, and when he tapped over a cross, Gross rolled in unnoticed. Ten Hag shakes his head, and Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench lifts his arms, either in mockery or encouragement.
But first, more heartbreak for those in red. Trossard supplied Caicedo from the left side of Brighton. He shrugged off a passive Eriksen, and the ball was swept upfield by Gross, Adam Lallana, and Solly March. Gross doubled his lead after David de Gea palmed out the latter shot.