What are the words of Alanis Morissette? “Isn’t it ironic?” Well, the words sung by her well incredibly apt tonight. Because in the worst performance since the end of the winter break gave us the same amount of points as the three Premier League games that preceded it. Before the goal and red card, the Seagulls were much the better team. The first half was a drab affair, outside of Moder’s great header that De Gea saved and Sancho’s early chance. The second half was anything but. Ronaldo swooped one into the corner and minutes later, Dunk was sent off for a professional foul. United and Brighton went punch for punch, even though the latter were down to ten men. Both teams could have got the next goal but it went the way of the Red Devils as Bruno sealed it with virtually the last kick of the night.
Sloppy, slow and second best
Even in the doldrums of 2019/20 season, there were chinks of light. Not much by any stretch of the imagination but there were still performances were you saw that with the right pieces, in certain circumstances, they could get somewhere that could be close to the standards that the club set before. Of course, I am talking about the fact that when United were allowed to set back, compress the pitch without putting much pressure on the opposition in the first phase and then springing on them when possession was turned over. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James were the main proponents of that attack, with Mason Greenwood replacing the latter as time wore on. All four now, through a myriad of reasons, are no longer available for selection or solidified in their place in the first team. In today’s game, it was a front three consisting of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga. While the latter two are still fast enough, not to the standard of those aforementioned. Ronaldo is 37 years old and just isn’t capable of leading those counters consistently.
So while United have started fast and faded in games gone past recently, this was a much more considered start with the pressing. The sat off and and tried to pick their moments to go hunt for the ball. They picked those moments sparingly and even more sparingly as the first half went on. The crystallising moment of the first half press was Bruno telling Fred to go apply a high press. Fred stupidly followed orders and Brighton play into the space he vacated. That started the sequence which ended in Moder’s chance, that De Gea quite remarkably turned past the post. So this team is currently in a catch 22 where they cannot press because the capabilities to do so for a full 90 minutes is impossible in this moment but cannot sit in their shape and spring into the threatening counters.
It means that extra consideration has to be taken when you do have the ball. When you have Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay and Fred turning out in your midfield, that is not something they will excel at. Much is made of the fact Fred and McTominay are poor on the ball. But we all know that. What is utterly concerning is the fact that tactically and positionally, they might actually be worse. The lack of consideration that both the Brazilian and Scotsman take for the depth that their defensive line takes is quite sickening to watch. It borders on the comedic and something you would unimpressed with at Sunday League level. Currently, their ability to run is literally the only redeeming feature between the two of them.
The lack of Varane and Pogba, illness and a deserved rest after just coming back from injury respectively, in the XI was clear to see. Whereas the games before, United were aggrieved to not get into the next round of the FA Cup and 6 points, they would not have been to have been going into the half time break behind. While Varane’s passing isn’t the most expressive, he does try to take as little touches as possible. He hardly ever dwells on it like his counterparts Maguire and Lindelof do. A underrated aspect also that he constantly tries to pass with his left foot. It opens up different angles and means opposition can’t press him into making uncomfortable hoofs with his stronger foot. There were many times when Lindelof failed to open himself up to switch the point of attack and it didn’t help us in build up. The positives of Pogba over Fred and it would be a waste of words to even go into that detail.
United’s profligacy, if it were to continue for the rest of the season, will be the difference between them getting top four and not. Ronaldo, Sancho and Bruno all missed glorious chances to put The Red Devils ahead or extend the lead once Ronaldo’s snapshot crashed past Sanchez in front of the Stretford End.