Reaction and Player Ratings : Manchester United 2-0 Brighton


Manchester United are back in the top four, the singular objective presented to the squad by the manager Ralf Rangnick for the remainder of this season.

The position was achieved by a fairly unconvincing win over Brighton, and isn’t technically United’s to hold, considering Arsenal’s games in hand – but considering the respective quality between those squads, if the Old Trafford club squander Champions League football from this position, the rules on redefining failure will once again have to be rewritten.

When you have won again it should be prudent to concentrate on the positives. Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire never looked as porous as that combination has proven to be in the past, which was just as well considering the territorial domination of the visitors in the opening period. Jadon Sancho continues to be the highlight of this team with his new-found confidence illustrated with his dazzling dribbling. And Cristiano Ronaldo showed that class is permanent with the sort of ingenuity required to break through such stubborn resistance.

Bruno Fernandes, after a catalogue of easy chances missed recently (it’s a thin catalogue to be fair) got a goal for himself to end a frustrating day right at the moment where it seemed like Brighton might snatch a point.

United have looked more like a team since this formation change to a three-man midfield. There’s no abyss in the middle of the park. There’s no longer the sense that the defence, midfield and attack are three separate entities marooned from each other. They’re a team.

And you can’t say they are not working, because that’s clearly one of the manager’s primary requirements.

There still remains something laborious about the team. If someone is to write a book on this season – and it won’t be me, for a while at least – it might well have the title ‘I’m here because I have to be here’.

That was, of course, what Harry Maguire said after the 5-0 defeat to Liverpool in October. But there was a period in the first half where it felt like the same old story. The players seemed disinterested.

Everything seemed such a task that at one point you felt as if you ought to go down to the pitch and apologise for the players for them having to turn up and play. One throw-in late in the first half went from one player to another before the ball was given to Luke Shaw to take it. It was a move that was promptly wasted.

Five minutes before half-time – they didn’t even wait for a whistle for the break – United’s support booed en masse as their team took another slow goal kick deep into their own half. At that point, Brighton were by far the better team in terms of slickness and shape. They’d just almost taken the lead, De Gea being forced into an outstanding save.

And there’s the rub for United – they’re working harder. But the reality is they’re just not very good. Brighton are the best team to have visited Old Trafford in recent weeks and where United were said to have been improving against Middlesbrough and Burnley and Southampton, their displays were getting weaker compared to the improving quality of the opponent.

Ronaldo’s magic – a shift of foot and a drilled finish from 20 yards – could have set the tone.

Lewis Dunk’s red card moments after transformed the shape of the game, meaning we don’t have any real answers about how equipped United were to see through that game. They had started to dominate possession, but then relinquished it, and were lucky to get to injury time level as Brighton sensed a vulnerability, hitting the bar and then having Welbeck head over.

The eleven men held out against the ten – getting a second goal with the last kick of the game as Fernandes raced clear of a Brighton team camped out in the United box.

So United ended the day in fourth place. This is the objective laid out to them by the manager. It is most definitely a lowering of ambitions considering this was meant to be a team to challenge for the title. It should be an embarrassment to them that they’re underperforming last season’s second place with three improvements in the side.

It’s easy to forget that United finished second. With each passing performance that underwhelms, this squad are making Solskjaer look like a better manager, and the truth is that everyone knows that he had to go and his inexperience was holding the club back from progressing. So what’s the excuse for this?

Were the boos enough to sting them into action? Thanks to Dunk’s red card, we won’t know the answer to that question for a while yet.

If you were to be cynical – and why wouldn’t you be after this season – you might be inclined to say the number and scale of humiliations suffered so far this campaign haven’t been enough to do it, so why should a few boos?

A win is a win is a win, but the general feeling of apathy and limbo remains at Old Trafford.

Champions League qualification may have been presented as the ambition but at present it looks as though the majority of the team will be relying on the will of Ralf Rangnick and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have personal reasons for achieving this goal, to drag them there.


De Gea 7

Dalot 5

Lindelof 6

Maguire 6

Shaw 6

McTominay 6

Fred 5

Fernandes 6

Sancho 7

Ronaldo 7

Elanga 5





Wayne Barton

Wayne is a writer and producer. His numerous books on Manchester United include the family-authorised biography of Jimmy Murphy. He wrote and produced the BT Sport films 'Too Good To Go Down' in 2018, and 'True Genius', in 2021, both adapted from his books of the same name. In 2015 he was described by the Independent as the 'leading writer on Manchester United' and former club chairman Martin Edwards has described him as 'the pre-eminent writer on the club'.

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