A Pascal Gross brace condemned Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United to an opening weekend defeat in the Premier League.
Erik ten Hag faced Graham Potter’s Brighton & Hove Albion in his first competitive match as Manchester United manager with the former Ajax boss looking to start his tenure as United head-coach with a victory in front of a packed Old Trafford.
Ahead of his first Premier League game in charge of the Red Devils, the Dutchman would give competitive debuts to new signings Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen.
However, Cristiano Ronaldo would find himself on the United bench at kick-off after a week of controversy surrounding his early departure with a group of teammates from their final pre-season friendly against Rayo Vallecano last weekend, with Erik ten Hag electing to deploy the Danish debutant Eriksen, in a false-nine position.
Jadon Sancho, who missed out on the game against the Franjirrojos due to illness, also returned to the starting line-up.
In the end, two first-half strikes from Pascal Gross would leave United reeling at the break and despite Ten Hag’s side being given a lifeline by an own-goal in the second-half, Manchester United began their 2022/23 Premier League season with a defeat.
Seconds after kick-off, Brighton would have the first chance of the clash, with Leandro Trossard pressuring Diogo Dalot into giving up possession just outside the United 18-yard box, but after stealing the ball, the Belgian winger’s shot was straight into the side-netting.
After this hectic start, Ten Hag’s side looked to be settling into the affair, with the Red Devils enjoying the majority of the possession with United’s stars playing with a visible fluidity.
And on the sixth minute, Ten Hag should have been celebrating the opening league goal of his tenure. Scott McTominay made an incisive run into a pocket of space behind the Brighton defensive-line before squaring the ball for Bruno Fernandes on the penalty spot, but the Portuguese play-maker would blast his shot over Robert Sanchez’s goal.
Only moments later at the other end of the pitch, Fred would give the ball away to Leandro Trossard in a dangerous position within the United box, but some good recovery work from the Brazilian defused the danger.
After a lively opening period, the intensity of the game began to dampen as Graham Potter’s side grew into the game, with United being penned back in their own-half.
This period of Brighton domination almost came to an abrupt end on the 23rd minute, when United took a free-kick quickly inside their own-half with the ball falling to Jadon Sancho. As the Red Devils countered, the English winger would play a wonderful cross-field pass to his international teammate Marcus Rashford, who laid-off the ball for an onrushing Christian Eriksen, but the Danish debutant, who was off-balance, was not able to trouble Robert Sanchez with his shot from inside the Brighton box.
However, on the 30th minute, the Seagulls would break the deadlock through Pascal Gross. Intricate play from Potter’s side released Danny Welbeck in behind the left-hand side of the Manchester United defence. The former Red Devil then fizzed a pass across the United box for an unmarked Gross at the back-post to tap into an open goal.
Nine minutes later, Brighton would double their lead, with Pascal Gross scoring his second of the afternoon. Solly March picked up the ball just inside the United 18-yard box and sent a low shot towards goal which David De Gea could only parry into the path of Gross who tapped the ball into another open net.
On the stroke of half-time, United would have a chance to reduce the deficit, with Diogo Dalot delivering a ball into the Brighton box which found Christian Eriksen, but a back-heel from the midfielder was cut out by a Brighton defender.
This half-chance brought to an end a lacklustre half from Manchester United, with Erik ten Hag’s first forty-five minutes of Premier League football ending with his side trailing by two goals.
After a disappointing first-half, Erik ten Hag would resist the temptation to make any substitutes at the interval, with the Dutchman backing his starting side’s ability to get back into the game.
The Red Devils would almost reduce the deficit only four minutes after the restart with a low cross from Christian Eriksen just missing Marcus Rashford at the back-post.
This early chance for Manchester United was followed by a barrage of efforts from Ten Hag’s side but none of these seemed to really trouble the Brighton defence.
Therefore, in an attempt to bring his side back into the game, Cristiano Ronaldo would be introduced to the contest on the 53rd minute, replacing Fred.
Ronaldo’s introduction would re-energise Manchester United, and only seven minutes after his emergence from the United bench, the Portuguese forward would beat the Seagull’s offside trap and whip a ball into the box for an unmarked Marcus Rashford, who failed to beat Robert Sanchez from close-range. The English wingers' blushes were eventually spared by a raised offside flag.
Minutes later, Rashford would spurn another, admittedly more difficult, chance at the back post that was created by Diogo Dalot.
Manchester United since the resumption of the game had looked more threatening but were still missing a killer instinct in the final third.
And on the 68th minute, Manchester United would give themselves a lifeline in the game, when a dangerous corner from Bruno Fernandes was turned into the goal by Alexis Mac Allister, giving Erik ten Hag’s side just over twenty minutes to try and rescue a result.
This goal brought to life a previously moody Old Trafford crowd, with the United faithful willing forward their side. And only five minutes after the Red Devil’s first, they almost had a second, when Robert Sanchez spilled a shot from Dalot into a dangerous area, but there was no red shirts around to convert the ball.
Moments later, Lisandro Martinez would also try his luck from range but his shot sailed just over the Brighton bar.
With just over ten minutes left on the clock, Erik ten Hag would make his second change of the afternoon with Scott McTominay being replaced by Donny van de Beek.
This final period in the game was characterised by end-to-end action with both sides looking to confirm a result. Brighton continued their search for a third goal with some intricate football, whilst United moved forward as they looked to steal an equaliser.
On the 87th minute, The Red Devils almost had their goal, when a corner fell fortuitously to Martinez whose shot was bravely blocked at the last second by Lewis Dunk.
With his final roll of the dice, Ten Hag would introduce Tyrell Malacia, Alejandro Garnacho and Anthony Elanga to the clash.
However, despite this late gamble from Manchester United’s new manager, the Red Devils were forced to accept defeat in their first game of the 2022/23 season.
Manchester United: David De Gea, Luke Shaw (Tyrell Malacia - 90’), Harry Maguire, Lisandro Martinez, Diogo Dalot, Fred (Cristiano Ronaldo - 53’), Scott McTominay (Donny van de Beek - 78’), Christian Eriksen, Bruno Fernandes (Alejandro Garnacho - 90’), Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho (Anthony Elanga - 90’).
Subs: Tom Heaton, Raphael Varane, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, James Garner.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Robert Sanchez, Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk, Joel Veltman, Solly March, Alexis Mac Allister, Leandro Trossard (Tariq Lamptey - 75’), Moises Caicedo, Pascal Gross, Adam Lallana (Enock Mwepu - 75’), Danny Welbeck.
Subs: Jason Steele, Enock Mwepu, Kaoru Mitoma, Neal Maupay, Jeremy Sarmiento, Deniz Undav, Levi Colwill, Jan Paul van Hecke.
Featured Image Credit: Manchester United
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