Updated: Oct 3
The 2022/23 Premier League season is barely four days-old and Manchester United are already three points off the pace.
The Erik ten Hag era got off to a disappointing start as Man United lost 1-2 at home to Brighton & Hove Albion in their Premier League opener. Ten Hag became the first United manager to lose his first official match in charge since countryman Louis van Gaal's side went down to Swansea City on the opening day of the 2014/15 season.
Past Sunday, United started the game well and dominated possession in the early stages before Brighton came to life after 20 minutes. Graham Potter’s team opened the scoring on the half-hour mark as Pascal Groß slotted home at the Stretford End after Scott McTominay conceded possession, less than five minutes after the United midfielder was booked for a reckless challenge on Moises Caicedo.
Ex-United man Danny Welbeck and Groß both produced inspired displays and the latter doubled Brighton's advantage before 45 minutes. Luke Shaw failed to close down Solly March, whose shot was parried by David De Gea, and Groß was on hand to extend the Seagulls’ lead.
When referee Paul Tierney blew the half-time whistle Old Trafford was flooded with a chorus of boos and Ten Hag appeared infuriated as he marched towards the tunnel.
Both of United’s centre-backs Harry Maguire and Lisandro Martínez were in the ref’s book inside an hour and, to make matters worse for Ten Hag, Marcus Rashford spurred two clear-cut chances in the space of five minutes. Rashford was denied by goalkeeper Robert Sanchez from point-blank range before the United forward skied a volley from six yards out.
Having only been named on the bench by Ten Hag, Cristiano Ronaldo entered the fray with little over one-third of the game to play. United improved following Ronaldo's introduction and they pulled a goal back as Alexis Mac Allister was accredited with an own goal after a United corner.
There was little else to cheer for from United’s perspective and Brighton really took the game to them. Potter’s men were aggressive and fearless throughout and they also displayed snippets of flowing football which the United players would have been envious of.
For Brighton it was a first victory in their 15 games at Old Trafford. For United, more boos were heard at the final whistle.
F/T Man United 1 - 2 Brighton
If he didn’t know it already, the Brighton result underlined just how big a job Ten Hag has on his hands. If he is to succeed in the United hot-seat, the Dutchman is going to need support in abundance: in the form of financial backing from those above him, as well as patience from the players and supporters.
With three weeks remaining of the summer transfer window, United have acquired just three new players and their expenditure is yet to exceed £60million. Ten Hag has so far added two left-sided defensive options from the Eredivisie in Martínez and Tyrell Malacia, while Christian Eriksen signed at Old Trafford on a free transfer.
All in all, United’s current squad is inferior to last season’s group which mustered the club’s worst points return in a Premier League campaign. After releasing six first-team players in June, United are yet to properly embark on its much-needed clear-out and Andreas Pereira is the only senior player to have left Old Trafford on a permanent deal this summer.
A deal to purchase Frenkie de Jong has been in the works for 13 weeks however the player is reluctant to leave Barcelona. Ten Hag and director of football John Murtough have cast an eye on alternatives to De Jong, and on Monday reports emerged that United had agreed a £15m fee with Juventus for Adrien Rabiot.
The French midfielder has less than a year remaining on his deal in Turin and despite him being available for an inexpensive sum, many United supporters have expressed their doubts about the 27-year-old.
Reports suggest Ten Hag has also registered interest in PSV winger Cody Gakpo, 23, who could be on the move for around £35m. Gakpo scored 12 goals and made 13 assists in the Eredivise last term and new PSV boss – and ex-United striker – Ruud van Nistelrooy views the Dutch international as integral to Eindhoven's title aspirations.
Moreover, United were linked with a move for ex-West Ham and Stoke City forward Marko Arnoutovic, however correspondent Laurie Whitwell exclusively revealed on Tuesday that United had pulled out of a deal for the Austrian international.
Arnoutovic previously spent six seasons in England during which time he made 184 Premier League appearances, albeit the 33-year-old would be similar to several other short-term signings made by the Red Devils in recent years.
In the last six years United have signed three strikers aged 33 or older (Zlatan Ibrahimović, Edinson Cavani and Ronaldo) and the last time they signed a centre-forward aged 25 or younger was Romelu Lukaku in 2017.
The short-term future of Ronaldo remains uncertain amidst a summer of speculation surrounding the Portuguese. United’s no.7 missed the club’s pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia due to personal reasons and Ten Hag has suggested the 37-year-old is yet to return to optimal fitness levels after featuring for just half of United's final pre-season outing against Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes is believed to have offered his client’s services to several top clubs across Europe with Ronaldo desperate to play Champions League football. For the sake of Ten Hag's plans the Ronaldo ordeal needs immediate resolving and, with or without the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, United need to recruit at least one more attacking player before the end of August.
After taking over at Manchester City and Liverpool, Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp both took several years to fully implement their philosophies and recruit the players necessary to complement their respective playing styles. Man City ended the 2016/17 season in 3rd place, 15 points behind league winners Chelsea, while Liverpool came 4th and a further two points adrift of City.
Guardiola and Klopp each made six first-team signings during their first summer in their current jobs. Kevin De Bruyne is the last remaining player who was part of City’s senior fold prior to Guardiola’s appointment in 2016, while the quartet of Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Joe Gomez, and Roberto Firmino are the only current Liverpool players who were already in the first-team before Klopp's arrival on Merseyside in October 2015.
Ten Hag's fate isn't fully in his own hands, but rather in those above him.