Brighton & Hove Albion earned their first points of the Premier League season after shocking Manchester United 3-2 at the Amex Stadium on Sunday. Paul Pogba converted an injury-time penalty for the visitors but couldn’t stave off defeat.
Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy scored within three minutes of each other to put Brighton 2-0 ahead before the half-hour mark. Romelu Lukaku headed in to halve the deficit, but Pascal Gross converted from the spot to put the Seagulls 3-1 ahead just before half-time.
Eric Bailly had a defensive shift to forget, as Brighton ran out deserved winners and got their campaign up and running in style as deserved victors against one of England’s powerhouses.
Jose Mourinho Will Be Haunted by Failure to Improve His Squad
United’s failure to sign a new star centre-back this summer was the major headline of their transfer window, one for which Jose Mourinho deserves some blame. But the more condemnable fault on his behalf at Old Trafford has been the inability to evolve those players already under his command.
It has been talked about at length how former stalwarts Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have been missed in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era—a shortfall that was exposed by Murray, Duffy and Gross on Sunday.
But it was two centre-backs brought in during Mourinho’s watch, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, who started and were at fault in some regard for all three of Brighton’s goals, as noted by sportswriter John Brewin:
Following such a bright start to his career in England, Bailly has tailed off and contributed arguably his worst half in United colours during the opening 45 in Brighton. Bleacher Report’s Nick Akerman has lost some hope he could be the team’s defensive saviour:
Bailly and Lindelof, both 24, have their strengths as individuals but at times still looked lacking in experience against Brighton. A missed tracking of a player here, sluggishness in following their full-backs up to set an offside trap there; it’s clear how this side is lacking in comparison to the great United teams of old.
The Ivorian’s foul on Gross for the Brighton penalty was an unnecessary dive in on the German and exposed what’s often been his most glaring weakness: lacking a cool head in situations when it’s needed most.
Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News struggled to see past United’s transfer window failing as the cause of their woes:
Murray looked a dynamic and frequent threat running in behind the away side’s defence. Lukaku, meanwhile, struggled for ideas among a packed Brighton back line. Granted, those around him weren’t supplying the ammunition he craves, but this was also a game in which the Belgian might be expected to spur the team himself and conjure some individual brilliance.
Journalist Graham Ruthven used Mourinho’s past criticism of Anthony Martial, who eventually went off after 60 minutes, as an inevitable topic of debate:
Pogba was at times guilty of hanging on to the ball too long, and this was an example of a match in which some would argue he should have shown more. New signing Fred wasn’t the inspiration his side needed, though he did finish with one of the highest pass completion rates in the game (92 per cent, per WhoScored.com).
United’s first game on the road this season brought into light Mourinho’s struggles to push and improve those players at his disposal while also highlighting the club’s biggest miss of their summer transfer window.
Brighton Gems Gross and Knockaert Can Take Seagulls to New Heights
There were heroic performances all over Chris Hughton’s Brighton team considering the level of competition they faced on Sunday, but midfield motivator Gross and wing whiz Anthony Knockaert stood as their stars.
More so than statistics and figures might tell, Gross brought a leader’s touch when it was needed, not least of which when tucking away his penalty to restore a crucial two-goal advantage, per Sky Sports Statto:
The German exudes great calm under pressure for Hughton’s men, and this is far from his first time standing up to one of the Premier League big guns, demonstrating he belongs among their ranks:
Knockaert is an entirely different asset to the German supplier and posed a persistent threat to the Red Devils defence, who looked incapable of dealing with his direct approach at times.
United hopes were high after Luke Shaw had such a strong display in the 2-1 win over Leicester City last Friday, but podcaster JJ Devaney saw how that quickly turned against Knockaert:
The Frenchman was crucial to lifting Brighton from the Championship into the top flight, and despite some up-and-down form, his contribution to the energy needed against United highlighted him at his best.
If Hughton’s side were to be relegated right now, Gross and Knockaert would be two of the most valuable prizes teams would likely attempt to pinch, but the pair will continue to buoy Brighton for the season ahead.
Red Devils Lack Fighting Characteristics to Challenge for the Title
It’s impossible to size up those intangible traits like fight and motivation for winning, but whatever the measurement, Mourinho’s Manchester United are sorely lacking in both departments.
Not every manager can summon the same courage that Ferguson often did with his United sides, but this seems to be the key contrast. In days gone by, even at 3-1 down, one might have backed United to come back to win, but the same feelings just don’t arise with Mourinho’s squad at work.
All talk of signings apart, one would have backed last season’s United to beat Brighton away, but there was little impression of genuine desire to get three points on Sunday, sportswriter Alex Terrell remarked:
Journalist Jordan-Luke McDonald contrasted the Amex Stadium losers against City, who on Sunday pummelled Huddersfield Town 6-1, the standard for which they should be aiming:
Brazilian Fred was signed as a source of midfield energy, but he and Pogba were regularly made to look tame in the engine room, while the aforementioned Lindelof and Bailly were aloof in key moments.
Older heads such as Juan Mata and Ashley Young may have some of what United need, but they’re not in positions where it’s always easy to demonstrate and need the likes of Pogba and Lukaku to show more.
For so many years it was never a problem at United for players to show desire. In fact, it was long their greatest strength. Now they have a team assembled from hundreds of millions of pounds of talent, yet they can’t buy the passion they need to reclaim a place on the Premier League perch.
Both clubs have major fixtures on their horizons, as United prepare to host Tottenham Hotspur next Monday, while Brighton will travel to Anfield on Saturday to face Liverpool