In pictures: Brighton v Man Utd
Manchester United’s hopes of clinching a top-four finish were dented after they succumbed to a last-gasp 1-0 defeat against Brighton in a lively affair at the Amex Stadium. The Red Devils had a golden chance to close the gap on third-placed Newcastle United but paid the price for a toothless performance, and after Erik ten Hag stressed the need to strengthen his side this summer, it seems the Dutchman was correct in his blunt assessment.
Kaoru Mitoma had the best chance of the game to break the deadlock after an error from Victor Lindelof but he struck his effort straight at David de Gea, who needed treatment after the ball hit him in the face.
United had their own chances too, with Antony squandering an early opportunity before Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were both denied by Jason Steele.Chances were few and far between in the second half, however, as the game erupted into a feisty affair and Luke Shaw conceded a penalty in stoppage time, Alexis Mac Allister converted in the 99th minute.
It will feel even worse for United given the chances they had and now their hopes hang in the balance. Express Sport looks at the four players who failed to perform on the night for the Red Devils.
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It looked like it wouldn’t be his night when he made a run through the centre after United crowded out Mitoma, only to spurn his first attempt. Ten Hag shook his head in disgust, knowing the Brazilian had to at least find the target if not the back of the net and test Jason Steele. A goal inside the first five minutes would have quietened the lively Brighton faithful, but Antony fluffed his lines.
The £85million signing has scored just four goals in the Premier League this season and that spurned opportunity gave a glimpse as to why he has struggled. His tricks and flicks may be easy on the eye but United signed him to create and score, and few would argue his first season has proved he can do that on a regular basis.
He’s still only 23 and that confidence and composure will come in time, particularly once he has settled into life in Manchester and become fully acquainted with the demands of the Premier League. The worrying statistic for him is that Jadon Sancho, having played fewer games, has scored more often this season. And his hot-headed kick out at Mac Allister only proves he has some growing up to do before he can be considered a key player in this side.
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Booked for a lazy challenge to break the counter after Mac Allister broke clear, there has been a notable drop in Casemiro’s level since the World Cup. He started the season superbly and brought some much-needed leadership and confidence to the midfield after his £70m move from Real Madrid, but at this rate, Ten Hag may need to sign another midfielder to deputise for the games he misses.
It is difficult to ignore how United have been hung out to dry by his lack of discipline. A player in his role will always pick up yellow cards, but Casemiro is less effective when playing with a yellow card hanging over his head – and that proved to be the case at the Amex as he looked reluctant to go near Mac Allister before escaping a second yellow card for a challenge which could have gone either way.
United at one point this season appeared to be over-reliant on the 31-year-old, but that has become less obvious in recent weeks after his suspension. If United are to finish in the top four, they will need Casemiro to step up to the plate like he did earlier this season after a dip in form.
Without their first-choice defensive pairing of Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, it was expected United would have some uncertain moments at the back.
Lindelof did little to dispel those fears after a nervy moment which United were fortunate to escape from without conceding. The Swede gave away the ball cheaply and only Mitoma’s lack of vision to find Enciso free in the box ensured the centre-back escaped scot-free.
One would can only wonder the reaction if Harry Maguire would have made a similar error. As for Lindelof, it gives Ten Hag the dilemma of whether he can trust him to play out from the back. Otherwise, he was solid enough to keep Danny Welbeck under wraps, but only Brighton’s profligacy saved his blushes tonight.
When Ten Hag is candid enough to express his wish for a new No 9, it is performances like these from Martial that perfectly sum up why he is desperate for reinforcements.
Martial was barely involved and cut a peripheral figure throughout the game as the action passed him by. Aside from a run few runs into the channel, he was almost anonymous at times – and when he was called into action, he let his side down. Rashford found the Frenchman through the middle with some clever play but, with the goal staring him in the face, he could only strike straight at Steele.
It was a disappointing finish, but one that United might have expected from a player who has never scored against Brighton in his seven previous appearances and only Ten Hag will know why he waited 84 minutes before hooking him. Perhaps the unavoidable truth is that if there was a better option than Wout Weghorst on the bench, he wouldn’t have done – and that is part of the larger problem for Ten Hag to resolve this summer.
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