Manchester United rocked to their rotten foundations by Brighton

Manchester United have suffered their worst defeat in their worst season of Premier League at the hands of Brighton.

This defeat leaves Manchester United on 58 points with just one Premier League game remaining this season, guaranteeing that 2021-22 will see their lowest ever points total in a campaign in the competition (previously 64 in 2013-14). Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
This defeat leaves Manchester United on 58 points with just one Premier League game remaining this season, guaranteeing that 2021-22 will see their lowest ever points total in a campaign in the competition (previously 64 in 2013-14). Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Brighton & Hove Albion 4 def. Manchester United 0

Manchester United have suffered some gross indignities this season — most notably losing 5-0 at home to Liverpool and 4-1 away to Watford — but this was probably their worst defeat in their worst season in the Premier League. Ralf Rangnick’s team were humiliated and outclassed by a team who, until Saturday evening, were still trying to be mathematically sure of their place in the Premier League.

A first-half goal by Moisés Caicedo was followed by a torrent in the second, with Brighton & Hove Albion’s Marc Cucurella, Pascal Gross and Leandro Trossard all feasting on a banquet of ineptitude. It means that United will now finish with a lower points total than their previous worst in the Premier League — 64 points in 2013-14 — but even that masks the scale of the problem facing the new manager, Erik ten Hag.

After Brighton defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0 in their previous Premier League game, Graham Potter made only one change, with Gross back in the starting line-up, replacing the injured Enock Mwepu. United were unchanged from the side who beat Brentford by the same scoreline, which meant a second start in a row for Juan Mata and only a place on the bench for Harry Maguire on his return from a knee injury. The departing Jesse Lingard, denied a send-off in front of the Old Trafford faithful in United’s last home game of the season during the week, was again on the bench.

United were dull in the opening period, Brighton brighter, forcing several corners before they took the lead in the 15th minute. A cross from the left by Trossard was dealt with ineptly by Alex Telles, who at least made amends for his error by blocking Gross’s efforts with his backside. However, the ball landed nicely for Caicedo about 25 yards out and his low shot flew through the legs of Victor Lindelof and into the net, with David de Gea beaten by the sheer force of the shot even though it wasn’t right in the corner.

The 20-year-old Ecuador international celebrated wildly, hardly surprising since it was his first goal since signing for Brighton from Independiente del Valle in his homeland and then spending the first half of this season at the Belgian club Beerschot, recalled only because of injuries to several Brighton midfielders.

United were awful to a man in the first half, but Telles had a particularly rough time at left back, where the hardworking Solly March and Gross were ganging up on him and his teammates were somewhat indifferent to his plight. Brighton’s Cucurella and Trossard were almost as effective on the other flank.

United’s central midfielders were also listless in their defending, but they were even worse when in possession. Scott McTominay was almost punished for his indecisiveness when he was robbed of the ball just outside the penalty area in the 34th minute, but Trossard blasted wide. Even worse followed when Raphaël Varane attempted to play the ball back to De Gea, but only put it into the path of Danny Welbeck, but the former United player ballooned the ball over the crossbar.

United’s half was summed up by Cristiano Ronaldo blasting the ball over the bar from a promising free-kick position in the 39th minute and the United legend reacted somewhat petulantly to an awful pass from Nemanja Matic when he slid in on Lewis Dunk and was rightfully booked shortly before the break.

Rangnick, the United interim manager, shoved on Edinson Cavani to give Ronaldo a strike partner, while Fred replaced Anthony Elanga, who was the victim of a bad challenge by Yves Bissouma in the first half. In the 48th minute Telles was again exposed, this time by a cross from the left that flashed across the goal and was picked up by Trossard, who slipped the ball to Cucurella. The unmarked left back smacked the ball into the net, beating De Gea all ends up at his near post.

Since Brighton joined the Premier League in 2017, against no other side have Man Utd lost more away games in the competition than their three defeats to Brighton at the Amex in this time (also lost three at Arsenal and Liverpool). Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Since Brighton joined the Premier League in 2017, against no other side have Man Utd lost more away games in the competition than their three defeats to Brighton at the Amex in this time (also lost three at Arsenal and Liverpool). Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Two goals down, it was laugh or cry time for United, and Ronaldo restricted himself to a wry smile, but it only got worse. In the 58th minute, Robert Sánchez sprayed the ball long to Cucurella, who found Trossard in the area and the ball was then fed to Gross, who coolly glided past Varane and picked his spot in the corner of the net.

Two minutes later, on the hour mark, it was four when Welbeck’s goalbound chip was acrobatically cleared by Diogo Dalot, but the ball rebounded off Trossard and into the net. It looked like it had come off his hand, but VAR, for some reason, failed to overturn the decision.

Dalot then had to make another athletic intervention to stop Brighton scoring a fifth after a neat interchange between Gross and Alexis Mac Allister.

At the other end there was some semblance of a United response, with Mata volleying the ball straight at Sánchez, before being substituted for Maguire, and Fernandes thrashing a shot goalwards that deflected off Adam Webster.

After Maguire caused some chaos in the Brighton penalty area, Cavani then had a goal ruled off-side and that was really all United had to offer, with Brighton finishing the game in the same way as they had started it, with Welbeck sending a curling shot just wide. It was olé time at Brighton.

-The Times