Another new era at Man Utd as Erik Ten Hag started his Man Utd career with a home game against Brighton. After a decent start, Brighton grew into the game and their unorthodox formation started to bare fruit. Their first came from something that was brewing for a while as Welbeck ran the channel behind Maguire. The ex Man Utd man put in a low cross that Gross would put in. The second came from March striking low to De Gea’s left, who was unable to parry it wide enough that Gross again could stick into an empty net. The Seagulls really truly showed how well drilled they are and as bad as it may seem to Red Devils fans, being able to get their level of coaching is the first step before we even think of the coaching levels in the top 6. United were able to pull one back with a messy goal, that ended up as a Mac Allister own goal. A defeat on the opening day and one that really enshrines the magnitude of the job at Old Trafford for Erik Ten Hag.
Same Ol’ Mistakes
A new season, particularly after the absolute car crash of a season that went before, with a new manager should be one where fans go into it with huge amounts of hope with little trepidation. Yet, the fans of Man Utd went into it feeling that same old feeling of not being suitably prepared for the start of the new Premier League season. The playing personnel was all too similar to the XIs that consistently served up putrid displays for the United faithful and they had become fed up with this roster of players. Their time had been served. It was only Eriksen and Martinez who would be the new additions to the starting line up, as Malacia sat on the bench.
The problem with having these players playing is that while plenty was blamed on Solskjaer and Rangnick, the players are limited in both physical and technical aspects. The set up from Graham Potter with this Brighton side, an old school 3-4-3 with the 4 as a diamond, is actually damning on United’s quality in the 1st and 2nd phase. That formation means that the outer centre backs are left very isolated and with United’s quality in those wide positions, with Sancho and Rashford, it should spell danger.
Yet Brighton were not concerned about those situations developing because if the ball cannot get to them then they can never cause you any worries. Solly March and Leandro Trossard, the two wingers, were high and wide right up against Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot respectively. What that done, is that the full backs had to worry about their own jobs rather than helping out the CBs. Why this is important is because Welbeck was repeatedly running the channels, something that Maguire and Martinez were unable to cope with.
Maguire, having switched to the right hand side to aid in build up and separate him from his Dumb and Dumber twin in Shaw, with the way they continually used to get in each other’s way, was never looking behind him and it meant Martinez was constantly having to track the run of Welbeck. It was dragging him across to the right hand side with Shaw having to deal with overloads at the back post. It was exactly how the first goal came, with Gross ghosting in at the back post to slot into a relatively open net.
Secondly, having the two wingers right up against the full backs, it rendered an important part of Ten Hag’s build up play useless because the Shaw and Dalot, whether it has been wide or in central positions, contribute heavily to progressing the play. The diamond shape also meant that the central areas of the pitch were overloaded. Fred, Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes can’t deal with pressure at the best of times but against a Brighton press and being outnumbered, it was going to be incredibly difficult for them.
Fred, as he has been in pre season, set up in a sole holding role. Lallana playing as the tip of the diamond was able to constantly press and harry him. McTominay was playing on a similar line to Bruno, something many say is his best position, but he was directly up against Caicedo, who marshalled him quite expertly. The Scotsman was actually very lucky to stay on the pitch given his shocking challenge on the latter.
All this is to say that, no matter how much we can convince ourselves that Ten Hag can get these players to get an extra 10% out of them, that still won’t be enough. There needs to be a steady stream of additions into this team, those without the mental stink as well as just being better players than those we currently employ.
The Central Issue
Ronaldo wanting to leave as United were unable to qualify for the Champions League was not a surprise to me. It clearly was to the United board given they went without getting a number nine on the conditions that Ronaldo were staying. Martial was coming off a torrid loan with Sevilla, Cavani had gone and the situation with Greenwood remains unchanged. So United are in a horrible position with the striking positions.
Today, without Martial and Ronaldo, the former through injury yet again and the latter not having the requisite conditioning from pre season to start so was positioned on the bench. It meant Eriksen was as the false nine. It was horrid. Bruno and Eriksen interchanged on occasion but never caused any problem for Brighton. The movements in behind or coming short did not do anything to disrupt the back three of Veltman, Dunk and Webster nor did it disturb the lone sitting midfielder of Mac Allister. Ronaldo coming on did give a presence to hit but it did not help much with the quality in the final third.
News today broke of United looking at Arnautovic, 4 years after he was supposedly a target under Jose Mourinho. It would be an option for Ten Hag that he likes. He went with Haller at Utrecht and Ajax. He was enamoured with the idea of Darwin Nunez, who ended up at Liverpool. The archetypal target man is something he likes, along with the false nine idea he has today. Ronaldo doesn’t really fit into either mould. Martial combines both roles without the consistency to particularly hold himself in high esteem. We will see what the transfer market plays out in the coming weeks.
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