United have little to play for in the league as the gap between 1st and 5th look insurmountable. Still, crazier things have happened. A win would put clear daylight, 11 points, between The Red Devils and 5th place, which is currently inhabited by Liverpool. An old boy came back to haunt us once again, as Welbeck scored a header after one was initially well saved by Dean Henderson, starting over De Gea who was fit. It went as the season has had it. Brighton gave up the lead and United came back from behind. Fernandes put Rashford through who passed it into the side netting and a skewed Pogba shot became his first PL assist of the season as Greenwood headed in the winner, despite the best efforts of Ben White. With results going for us as those directly below us lost, it should be that Champions League football is coming back to Old Trafford next season. Hopefully, they are able to stay past group stages this time.
Through the woods, into the clearing?
51% of United goals this season have come from midfielders. The 6th largest percentage in the league behind Leicester, Leeds, Fulham, West Ham and Wolverhampton. A lot of those teams have missed a real goal-scoring threat and the same could be said of United. After a personal best season, Anthony Martial followed it up with an ghastly effort of 4 Premier League goals, a figure he is likely to end up with given the knee injury he picked up on international duty. Cavani, after what seemed some decent performances, has settled into a routine of missing the games with knocks or just by being a complete ghost whilst being on it. In recent times, the big image for him has been a slow walk off the sidelines as he is replaced after an underwhelming display. Then Greenwood. 17 goals in his first full season and like his French compatriot, the return this year has been ghastly. Unlike the other two though, his performances have gotten better and better as the season ebbs to its finish. He wasn’t in amongst the goals in the league though. Today was much the same as he looked like the only player actually playing with an intensity that would get us back into the game. His effort that Sanchez slightly deflected onto the post was the best United chance, prior to Rashford slotting past the newly Spanish international squad member. But what was so great about the fact that he scored was that it came as a central striker, as Cavani was subbed just before. Just like his goal vs West Ham, when Martial was subbed. Also, it was an instinctive movement into space that more fans have been wanting to see from him. To top it off, it came with his head as Ole has been onto the young man about getting more headed goals on the board. A goal to back up the play he has been putting in recently. An important goal too. Hopefully, something build off.
Coming into this game, many knew what to expect. The only thing that was gonna be a surprise was the result. United have built a reputation of being hard to prepare for because they play as if they have hardly prepared themselves. Brighton, on the other hand, are so well drilled and its competency is too the point where not many teams in the division outplay them over the course of 90 minutes. These factors do not reflect both teams’ league positions and point to proof of the importance of individual quality. But it is incredibly energy sapping that a team sat so lowly in the league are able to play in this way when United aren’t. Given we are already 2nd in spite of our lack of good systemic play, it makes you wonder how well we would play if we were being coached to a decent level. I say decent because whenever teams have set up with incredibly stubborn back lines and deep blocks, we find it very difficult to break them down. Even a team stacked to the rafters with all the technical ability able to withstand intense pressure will find it increasingly difficult to find ways through the well coached defensive teams you see in modern football these days. It is why the progressive coaches are so lauded and pined for by pundits and fans alike.
The game today was stamped with increasingly slow build up play as United ushered the Brighton deep block from side to side without any threat of penetration because the intensity of the pass was akin to a snail. Now, the players on the pitch, overall, are lacking in their technical prowess but it can be mitigated. Knowing where the man is so you don’t have to look up shaves of a few seconds in a player’s decision making and those few seconds are paramount in games like this. The passes are hardly ever automatic unless it is Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba trying to arch a lofted ball into the path of Marcus Rashford. This seems more of two players strengths matching each other rather than it being a worked pattern of play on the training pitch. Cavani, a man known for darting across the near post to latch onto crosses, was always leaden footed when crosses of that ilk were coming in, is perhaps the biggest hallmark of a player unbeknownst of what type of cross he is going to latch onto. Fred and Pogba were not aggressive enough in their positioning, both when the Red Devils had and didn’t have the ball. They let Bissouma and Lallana gain control of the match then failed to play in the pockets in between Brighton’s 3-4-3 that could pull a centre back out of position. In the end though, the reason why both clubs are where they are showed. Because the individual quality of Man Utd once again saw them eek out a win when you could never see a goal coming.