This match was the epitome of a roller coaster of emotions. From the brink of another weekend of disappointment, United were able to salvage 3 points in an early must-win game.
It may not have been pretty and it may not calm the nerves of supporters, but United were able to grab their first win of the Premier League season.
Stop if you’ve heard this before; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer trotted the reliable starting XI that drove the squad to a top 4 finish last season. Many wondered if Matic would get the start today after starting last Tuesday, but seeing him come back and start alongside Paul Pogba was a welcome sight to fans.
A surprise may have been Victor Lindelof keep his place along Harry Maguire, after Eric Bailly’s strong performance earlier in the week. With the usual starting front line back together (Rashford, Martial, Greenwood) here is how United lined up today against Brighton:
If you were looking for United to rebound from their last Premier League defeat and come out firing against Brighton, you must have been dreaming. The home side came out hot and was going right after a United side that again for whatever reason looked disinterested.
Brighton’s Trossard hit both posts within the first opening minutes of the game, followed by peppering De Gea’s right glove in the 9th minute. If that did not wake up United, another nice shot 12 minutes later that beat De Gea and off the post again surely would, right?
United were able to get a couple spurts of momentum going but nothing really seemed to materialize. Marcus Rashford was flagged for offsides during the one good bit of build up play the lads were able to muster as the half seemed to be going towards a goalless scoreline.
Just when you thought the squad will go into the half tied, with an opportunity to regroup and figure out a plan of attack…a penalty for Brighton. Bruno Fernandes was on the wrong side of a penalty call when he apparently tripped Brighton’s Lamptey within the box for the foul. Maupay chipped the penalty shot into De Gea’s net to give the home side a 1-0 lead on the brink of halftime.
If you thought this was a good time to get a snack or go to the bathroom before the half, you were wrong. Only 194 seconds later, a Bruno free kick to the back post was able to find the foot of Nemanja Matic, who played the ball back in front of net to Harry Maguire who equalized for United. The goal was later ruled an OG on Dunk but the pressure from Maguire was there enough to create the equalizer on the brink of halftime.
With the game tied 1-1 heading into the second half, we were sure to see some action as both sides worked towards 3 points. This half can be described as nothing short of drama-filled. Within minutes of the second half kick-off, Paul Pogba was called for a penalty and yellow card as he was tracking Brighton’s Connolly on the counter. VAR gods were on our side with that one when the referee went to the monitor as saw that there was minimal contact and more of an acting job by Connolly, negating the penalty and card.
Then, it was United’s turn to have VAR negate a scoring chance when Rashford tucked home a nice shot but was found well offside on the play in the 52nd minute. Not to worry, however, soon afterwards Rashford was released on the left side by Bruno, sprinting at the Brighton defense, not once but twice faking out the defender Ben White, and blasting a shot into the top corner of the net. 2-1 United.
At the 60 minute mark, we all held our breath as March was left open along the back post (this seemed to be the theme for Brighton) but was unable to find the back of the net, instead again being denied by the post. The woodwork saved United again when a Trossard belted a shot against the crossbar as well. At this point in the 89th minute we were able to get another look at our new number 34 as Donny Van de Beek was brought on for Martial.
As we reached added time, United had already made several defensive substitutions in Fred for Pogba and Bailly for Greenwood, knowing how important keeping the lead and the 3 points was. However, the home side never stopped pushing. De Gea made what seemed to be the biggest save of the game when Trossard was able to squeak clear in front of goal and get a shot on net. Then, in the final minute of added time, March, who hadn’t scored a Premier league goal in 2 years, was left alone at the back post again where he was able to nod in a cross past De Gea to equalize for Brighton 2-2.
At this point, I, as well as many United fans across the globe felt deflated as the victory and 3 points were taken from us moments before the match was due to end. With one final push United were able to muster a corner for their last opportunity of the match. The corner found its way to Maguire’s big ole head and he pushed the shot towards the back post. The shot was saved off the line by a defender and the whistle blew for the match to end.
This is when confusion struck many of us watching from home because we see shoving and yelling from both teams towards the referee. As the go to replay, you can see Maguire’s header was flicked off the defenders hand as it went towards goal. VAR decided to have a look and just like that United got a chance to go to the spot for the win and 3 points. Bruno Fernandes, like he always does, walked calmly to the spot and fired a shot into the top corner to give United a 3-2 victory on the literal last kick of the game.
It was not pretty, but it was 3 points. It is hard to truly feel confident in your squad when you are playing a lower talent squad and then the game had you going from feeling down, to confident, back to down, then whoa how did we win that? A bright spot today has to be Marcus Rashford. For the first time in literally months, he looked explosive and decisive in his attack. If he can keep up a run of form like he did today, sky will always be the limit to our Manchester born and bred number 10.
However, this game can not be summarized without taking a hard look at the defense. Unmarked players were sitting at the back post the entire game and without some help from the woodwork (which was hit about 5 times by Brighton) this game could’ve ended very differently. Lindelof still looks indecisive and weak on the ball. While Wan-Bissaka had a tough day marking the back post which is strange for him. Even when Bailly was brought in and they went 5 in the back they still were very shaky. I don’t know if a new CB or LB will be enough to strengthen up the defense but something needs to change for sure if they want to compete in the league this season.
3 points are 3 points but the squad needs to sharpen up and sharpen up quickly as we progress through the season.
Next Match: Wednesday September 30 vs Brighton (English League Cup)