Brighton’s formula to beating Man United: Dominating wide areas, pressuring confidence-shy centre backs into mistakes, make late runs from deep and punish at the back post
- Manchester United have consistently found themselves caught out by Brighton
- Often overwhelmed by Brighton’s press, United need to adapt come Saturday
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off!
Whenever Manchester United are slated to face off against Brighton there has been, of late, a sense of trepidation about what may – and often does – follow.
Ralf Rangnick, in his penultimate game in charge as caretaker boss in 2022, found himself and his team humiliated, well and truly, before Erik ten Hag got stung by Brighton in his first Premier League experience.
Chuck in a stuttering FA Cup semi-final against them – which needed to be settled in a penalty shootout – and a 1-0 defeat at the AMEX Stadium and that sense of trepidation is far from misplaced.
Here, Mail Sport takes a closer look at where things went wrong for United and the lessons they must learn as Brighton roll into town this weekend…
Manchester United have routinely found life tough against Brighton in recent league meetings
Seagulls continually exploit United’s weaknesses and have won the last three league meetings
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May 7, 2022 – Brighton 4-0 Manchester United
An utter humiliation. Plain and simple.
United’s travelling fans chanted as much when they told the players they were ‘not fit to wear the shirt’ – and, well, Bruno Fernandes agreed with them.
There have been dismal days for Manchester United – a 4-0 rout at Brentford last season was hardly much better – but this was alarmingly bad.
One of the most glaring issues United had at the AMEX Stadium – where United have never beaten Brighton in front of a crowd – was the significant disparity in workrate.
Time and again Brighton – easily – found overloads and mismatches, with Diogo Dalot particularly exposed down United’s right side.
But it wasn’t just him. Take an example here before Brighton scored their first goal where two players sit free on the edge of the box for a strike that is eventually blocked into the path of Moises Caicedo – out of picture – who, reacting quickest, leathered in from distance to make it 1-0.
Prior to Brighton’s first goal in the 4-0 rout, you can see space afforded on the edge of the box
Again, this is moments before the second goal with Marc Cucurella (right, front) unmarked
Not only was workrate a major issue – a pet peeve of supporters is a lack of effort – there was a slowness to United’s build-up which meant Brighton hassled and harried the life out of them.
Perhaps taken off as a scapegoat but Anthony Elanga was hooked at half time after registering a harrowing 14 per cent pass accuracy – make that only one of the seven he attempted completed.
When all was said and done Brighton’s expected goals from open play registered at 2.50. United came in at a meagre 0.51.
So not only was there a lethargy defensively, the same was said for their attacking play.
Much of the attention defensively fell on the deficiencies of the full-backs but it was actually the lax positioning of Victor Lindelof that often left Brighton able to flood the defence and break at speed.
Wing play is essential to Brighton’s success and with Dalot again set to feature, he is going to need much more help from those ahead of him and over his shoulder.
Brighton’s strengths lie in their speed of press and they overwhelmed United here, so much so that when Marc Cucurella fired in for 2-0, totally unmarked on the edge of the area, United were 4-0 down within 11 minutes as they could not stop the spinning.
Large gaps in wide areas constantly gave Brighton an option to go wide or go in-behind
The back post has been an area United have lost, as evidenced here with Leandro Trossard
With a bloody nose from the first four blows, Brighton hit the post thereafter and went close again via Danny Welbeck in a display that, truth be told, could have been six or seven.
‘I tell you what, never mind the Gypsy King retiring, what do you say United why don’t they f****** retire – get off!’ United fan Tyson Fury fumed on Instagram.
‘They were shambolic, Manchester United, they were an embarrassment,’ Alan Shearer added on Match of the Day that night. ‘And if he hasn’t already, Ralf Rangnick should get his players in tomorrow and show them the performance from Brighton. Because this is what committed footballers do for their club, their fans, for their teammates and their managers. They work hard, they are prepared to put a shift in, they are organised and they are committed. It should be a given, but it’s not at Manchester United.’
The static nature of their defending was mocked mercilessly online – not without foundation – and there were arguments that players had long stopped responding to the sound of Rangnick’s voice.
But there was an absence of professional pride on this day and as good as Brighton were, United rolled over and got stomped on. Do so this weekend and a repeat is far from an impossibility.
In the second half of this 4-0 defeat, Cristiano Ronaldo had only three touches inside the box
August 7, 2022 – Manchester United 1-2 Brighton
A chance at redemption, only to get totally outplayed (again).
United seem to just lose any sense of tactical cohesion or coherence when they come up against Brighton.
Brighton so successfully create space and when they come up against United chances seem to be served to them on a platter, as evidenced not just in the 4-0 mauling but also here when Solly March was all alone at the back post for his opener after Danny Welbeck’s run split Harry Maguire and Lautaro Martinez, leading to a gaping hole appearing.
‘I analyse it and it was unnecessary,’ Erik ten Hag said, in his first league game in charge.
‘We gave too many easy balls away and the organisation was a big mistake.
Brighton’s overloading caused serious problems for Man United in their clash in August 2022
‘It was not the way we made it out, we made it clear how to deal with certain situations when we drop in, but that happens, we have to analyse and take the lessons from it.’
Brighton’s spatial awareness between the lines has always looked impressive when they come up against United.
In the example above you see Moises Caicedo break into the area down the left and he has three players busting a gut to support him – plus he has the option to shoot. That sequence leads to the opening goal.
Even when United have the overload as shown below, they again often lose the awareness at the back post, leaving David de Gea and the defence exposed.
Analysing the film Brighton will have routinely seen opportunities to hurt United if and when they get behind the full-backs.
This was the start of a new season and yet a reminder of the same old problems it felt like.
Even when they did generate numbers back, the back post was again their undoing for goals
May 4, 2023 – Brighton 1-0 Manchester United
Having squeezed past Brighton in an FA Cup semi-final penalty shootout, the sides met again in the final rounds of the 2022-23 season – again with Brighton coming out on top.
This time the flow of the game felt different.
United did work Jason Steele in the Brighton goal but, truthfully, showed a real lack of potency, particularly Anthony Martial, before Brighton scored a dramatic 99th-minute penalty winner.
Again it felt like United were the masters of their own downfall.
There was a moment in the first half where Victor Lindelof casually tried to play a pass across the back to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, only for the right back to be caught on his heels and Mitoma nipped in to race through one-on-one.
David de Gea saved that one with his face but it was a major let-off.
Dalot at left back was also a real problem, particularly when United have so routinely been overwhelmed in wide areas when these sides meet.
There was a moment in the second half where Brighton broke quickly and with purpose with just Lindelof and Luke Shaw – the centre back pairing that day – back to defend.
Their high press forced players like Victor Lindelof to make poor decisions in possession
Here, Kaoru Mitoma raced onto a lax pass from Lindelof to run through on goal, before missing
Wan-Bissaka is blessed with the recovery pace that Dalot doesn’t quite have and so Solly March raced clear, only to fire an effort from the edge of the box wide of the post.
The key difference with Brighton under Roberto De Zerbi was their domination in possession, compared to previous match-ups when under the Graham Potter regime.
Here Brighton dominated possession (59.6%) and had more shot attempts (22 versus 16).
‘Every defeat is a disappointment but in the end when you lose in the last second, that is of course annoying,’ Ten Hag said.
‘And I think the first minute sums everything up. We create a good chance, we were not clinical enough, then in the attack after we concede a big chance by a giveaway from us, the ball on the head for David.
‘And in the end, we also gave away the goal and that’s annoying because if you can’t win because you don’t finish your opportunities then don’t lose.’
United’s issue in the most recent league game was they were simply not clinical with chances
The back post – again – was exposed but this highlights how many options unmarked they have
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