Pascal Gross’ first-half double gave Brighton a surprise 2-1 win at Manchester United as Erik ten Hag’s reign got off to the worst possible start.
The unmarked Brighton midfielder found himself in the right place, at the right time, to tap the visitors into a 2-0 lead with two goals in nine minutes in the Old Trafford sunshine, as the hosts – with Cristiano Ronaldo starting on the bench – were booed off at half-time by their own fans.
However, Alexis Mac Allister’s scrappy own goal midway through the second period, awarded after a lengthy Video Assistant Referee [VAR] check for both handball and offside, briefly breathed new life into the hosts and their supporters.
But United were unable to find an equaliser and as a result, Ten Hag suffered defeat in his first Premier League encounter, while Brighton secured a first-ever win at Old Trafford.
Man Utd: De Gea (6), Dalot (6), Maguire (6), Martinez (5), Shaw (6), Fred (6), McTominay (6), Eriksen (7), Fernandes (6), Sancho (6), Rashford (6)
Subs: Ronaldo (7), Malacia (6), Van de Beek (6), Elanga (6), Garnacho (6)
Brighton: Sanchez (6), Veltman (6), Dunk (8), Webster (6), March (7), Lallana (7), Caicedo (8), Trossard (8), Gross (9), Mac Allister (7), Welbeck (8)
Subs: Lamptey (6), Colwill (6), Mwepu (6), Undav (6)
Man of the match: Pascal Gross
How Brighton ruined Ten Hag’s Man Utd bow
Optimism was high in the stands as United made their way out on to the pitch to begin another season in search of the Premier League title, especially with a new man at the helm, but that lasted all of half an hour.
The Dutchman, who even changed the dugouts at Old Trafford in a bid to bring back the glory days, has spoken of the challenges facing him, but this disjointed performance will have really brought that home to everyone.
After a bright start, including a bad miss by Bruno Fernandes, who swept a shot high over the bar from an unmarked position on the penalty spot having been set up by Scott McTominay, United imploded in the lead-up to half-time.
The visitors, playing more like Ten Hag’s former side Ajax than his current one in the first period, cut their opponents open to take the lead as the impressive Leandro Trossard picked out Danny Welbeck’s run in the box.
And the former Arsenal forward’s pull back from the left byline was touched home by an unmarked Gross at the far post to leave Old Trafford stunned, but worse was to follow six minutes before the interval after another well-worked Brighton goal cut United’s defence open.
Cristiano Ronaldo started on the bench for Manchester United. Ronaldo has asked to leave United and only has 45 minutes of match action under his belt from pre-season after family reasons kept him away from the club’s summer tour.
But there were Man Utd debuts for Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez, who signed this summer from Brentford and Erik ten Hag’s former side Ajax respectively. Fellow arrival Tyrell Malacia was also named among the substitutes.
Meanwhile, Brighton did not name any new signings in their starting XI, although Chelsea loanee Levi Colwill did feature on the bench.
Moises Caicedo, another to catch the eye, Gross, Adam Lallana and Solly March were all involved, before the latter’s low driven cross was only parried by David de Gea straight to that man Gross, who again side-footed into an empty net.
It could have been worse for the home team, with McTominay fortunate to only be booked after his sliding tackle caught Caicedo high on his ankle midway through the first half, with VAR deciding to give the Scotland midfielder the benefit of the doubt.
All eyes were on Ronaldo at the interval and it took Ten Hag little time to bring the Portugal forward on as United went to a flat back four, although it was Brighton who could – and should – have scored the next goal in the contest.
However, the VAR somehow decided new United centre-back Lisandro Martinez had not pushed Welbeck over in the box and soon the hosts were back in the game as the previously secure Robert Sanchez flapped at a corner, with Mac Allister then bundling the ball into his own net after a goalmouth scramble.
The VAR checked the goal after a possible handball by Diogo Dalot and a potential offside against Harry Maguire, but it stood as United were left with a quarter of the game to turn it around.
However, despite oodles of possession and a fervent home crowd willing them on, the match petered out as Brighton comfortably wound down the clock to leave Ten Hag with much to ponder after just one game at the helm.
Brighton finally break their Old Trafford duck – Opta stats
- Brighton registered their first ever away win over Manchester United, having drawn two and lost 12 of their previous 14 visits before today.
- Manchester United have now lost their opening Premier League match in two of the last three seasons, having started with a win in five consecutive seasons between 2015-16 and 2019-20 before this.
- Erik ten Hag is the first Manchester United manager to lose his first Premier League game in charge since Louis van Gaal in August 2014 against Swansea City.
What the managers said…
‘I’m not satisfied, we could have done better’
Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag:
“It is definitely a set-back, a real disappointment, but we have to deal with it,” he told Sky Sports. “I knew from the start that it wouldn’t be easy, it’s a process and takes time, but we don’t have time. We have to win games and we should have done better.
“I analyse it and it was unnecessary. We gave too many easy balls away and the organisation was a big mistake. It was not the way we made it out, we made it clear how to deal with certain situations when we drop in. but that happens, we have to analyse and take the lessons from it.
“I think so [desired Ronaldo impact?]. It was clear to see that the second half, we were better in midfield with (Christian) Eriksen down and Ronaldo up. Then we created and (Marcus) Rashford had two really good chances. It’s a pity we didn’t score them for 2-2.
“It takes time [for Ronaldo to get fit], you cannot force it. He has had one week of training and he has to do more to get fit. This game will help him with 35/40 minutes. Now we have one week and he will be better next week.
“I’m not satisfied [with Eriksen and the attacking unit]. I’m totally not happy because we lost and it was not necessary. We should have done things better.
“Even with those players, we could have done it better [will there be more reinforcements?]. It [the challenges this season] is the same. I knew before it would not be easy to construct it, to build it, develop it and it takes time. I know we don’t have time, we have to deliver and we are aware of this situation.
“I said it after the game in the dressing room that I saw it in the game [did you see a togetherness?]. In the action in the second half, we were acting as one team, battling for a better result. I’ve seen it clear, and also in the first half. It’s not that we didn’t battle or we didn’t have the right attitude, we made mistakes on the ball, passing mistakes, organisational mistakes and in defending.
“We have to [fix them quickly], but we also have to take the lessons and learn quickly from it.”
Potter: The players gave everything
Brighton boss Graham Potter:
“It was a great performance,” he told Sky Sports. “It was a deserved win over the course of the game and a fantastic effort from the players so a fantastic start.
“We had an idea of how to attack and when we could, we tried to press and put them under pressure. We were positive, we were brave in what we tried to do and the boys gave it everything. It’s a difficult place to come with the quality they have and the crowd get behind them really quickly. Our performance first half was really strong.
“I’ve not seen it back [the penalty], but the guys seem to think there was a chance of it. We had a few fouls that were waved away and you’re not going to get everything here, that’s just the way it is. We can’t complain too much. Those are the margins you need, we had enough on our side today and we’re happy with that.
“We managed it [the end of the game] quite well. They are going to put you under pressure and I thought we had a couple of chances to attack better to make it three when we could, but in the end, they came back. It’s a disappointing goal from our perspective, but the boys managed to hang in there and still caused some problems on the counter-attack. That gives us enough in the game, we didn’t just park on the edge of the box. I’m delighted with the boys and it’s a nice start for us.
“Without (Yves) Bissouma, (Marc) Cucurella – it’s not easy because they were two key players for us. The value of the transfer fees suggest they were both really good players so in any football team, you miss good players. But we’ve got a good group, it’s ambitious, they want to do their best. They’re not perfect, but they want to give everything and when you’re a coach, you’ve got a chance.
“We’re just enjoying the fact it’s a historic win for us, so that’s something to be happy about. Three points in the Premier League is always difficult to get. The way we did it was good, but it’s only three points and we’ve got a tough game next weekend.”
Ten Hag’s renaissance a long way off yet
Analysis by Charlotte Marsh:
Nothing dashes optimism more than a dose of reality. Heading into the new Premier League season, with Erik ten Hag coming in along with some new faces, there was hope that this could be the year Manchester United finally come good.
It did not take long for the rigours and demands of the Premier League set in. Unsurprisingly, Man Utd’s problems from previous seasons had not magically disappeared.
While they generally began brightly, they rode their luck on two separate occasions when mistakes from Diogo Dalot and Fred almost allowed Leandro Trossard to score. Errors out of possession and a lack of organisation were at times hard to watch.
Man Utd were in disarray defensively. They seemed to be continuously shocked when Brighton players popped up nearby and were not in a position to stop them, epitomised as Pascal Gross scored twice towards the end of the first half.
Summer signing Lisandro Martinez was also incredibly lucky to not concede a penalty when he fouled Danny Welbeck, with the former United striker a handful for the backline. Brighton are a talented side as they proved on Sunday, but that almost came as a surprise to this team.
The spaces between defence and midfield were a killer too, with Fred and Scott McTominay somehow still the first-choice midfielders, quite possibly out of necessity. As Sky Sports’ Roy Keane said: “Fred and McTominay are not good enough. They won’t get Manchester United back competing. We see it week in, week out.” It’s no surprise that Ten Hag has been desperate to sign Frenkie de Jong.
That’s not to say there were not some bright moments. Christian Eriksen shone on his debut and Bruno Fernandes continues to be the beacon of hope for Man Utd fans. Cristiano Ronaldo showed just why he is so important for his side too, despite all the summer dramatics. Whether Ten Hag likes it or not, Ronaldo is at the club and he must be utilised to help Man Utd out of their current predicament.
Although the Dutchman was keen to stress that he will need time to implement his ideas, he also knows that is not something afforded to many in football. He has now seen first hand the kind of issues he is facing at Man Utd and, with a constant pen and pad in his hand during the first half, it’s time for him to find the solutions.
As ever, all is not lost for Man Utd, but the Ten Hag renaissance is a long way from starting yet.
Slick Seagulls turn Theatre of Screams into Dreams
Analysis by Sky Sports’ Richard Morgan:
It is fair to say Brighton have struggled over the years at Old Trafford – in fact, ahead of their season-opening clash at Manchester United on Sunday, the Seagulls had lost on 12 of their previous 14 visits there.
However, Graham Potter’s side, who gave United a run for their money before losing 2-0 at the Theatre of Dreams back in February, were in no mood to roll over and hand Erik ten Hag a first win on his United bow.
The visitors could have scored straight from the kick-off in what should have served as a warning of what was to come to Ten Hag and Co as they played, according to Sky Sports commentator Jamie Carragher, like Ajax in the first half such was the free-flowing, slick, one-touch football that carved their hosts apart at times.
Both of their goals were easy on the eye and typical of the football played under Potter since he arrived on the south coast in 2019, especially in a first period that saw United face an alarming 12 shots on goal.
And while some may have mistakenly marked this down as the sort of fixture Ten Hag and United would enjoy to get the new man’s reign off to a winning start, they will now be rapidly revising that opinion.
“Every game will be a challenge,” said Erik ten Hag beforehand. “There will be setbacks and disappointments.” He did not have to wait long for the first of them, writes Adam Bate at Old Trafford.
Manchester United were deservedly beaten by Brighton in the Dutchman’s first game in charge. Fluent football with clever interchanging of positions, this was the football that had been promised at Old Trafford. But the other team were playing it.
Man Utd vs Brighton FPL stats
|Goals||Gross (2), Mac Allister OG|
|Bonus points||Gross (3pts), Welbeck (2pts), Sanchez (1pt)|
Man of the Match – Pascal Gross
The midfielder found himself in the right place, at the right time, to finish off two flowing Brighton moves and hand his side a first-ever win at Old Trafford in the process.
Both finishes were simple enough after Gross was twice left unmarked at the far post to tap into an empty goal and incredibly for a player with only 19 Premier League goals to his name, six of those have now come against United, who must now be sick of the sight of him.
And if the 31-year-old could continue to add goals to his midfield armoury, then he really will become indispensable to Graham Potter this season.
United take on Brentford at the Brentford Community Stadium (5.30pm), live on Sky Sports Premier League, while Brighton host Newcastle United, with both games taking place on Saturday August 13.