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Erik ten Hag positive despite Manchester United’s defeat to Brighton. Should he be?

Ten Hag disappointed in Man Utd's loss to Brighton
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag reflects on his side's 3-1 loss to Brighton at Old Trafford.

After watching his side lose 3-1 at home to Brighton on Saturday, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag said he saw some ‘good stuff’ from his players.

Aside from the obvious ridicule that will head his way, that is fair comment. But it doesn’t hide the fact that United have had a poor start to the new season.

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On Saturday United created so many chances but Brighton scored all three of their goals at crucial times and took their big chances. United’s new striker Rasmus Hojlund looked sharp and had a home debut goal ruled out by VAR for the smallest margin as the ball just rolled out of play on Marcus Rashford’s brilliant assist.

Rashford had more shots (9) than he’s ever had in a game and was exceptional but he hit the post as he just lacked the finishing touch. Even with all of the outside noise focused on Erik ten Hag’s treatment of Jadon Sancho, plus the situations regarding Antony’s future and the potential change in ownership of the club, there were actually a lot of positives for United in the performance.

But it won’t feel like it as they lost for the third time in five games to start the new Premier League season, which has never happened before in their history.

What did Erik ten Hag say?

“We are disappointed. But it was really small margins. We are so close against a good side,” Erik ten Hag explained to our partners in the UK at Sky Sports. “The first 20 minutes was all ours. We created chances but didn’t score. We conceded a goal with their first attack. We then had a period in the game that was quite difficult, we fought to get a goal and it was disallowed. So it is difficult in this period. It has not fallen on our side, but we will fight back and if we stick together, play as a team, stick to the rules, we will return.”

Like his experienced midfielder Christian Eriksen, United’s boss also lamented their bad luck as he said he tried to change things around at half time.

“There’s always some improvements to make, especially the organisation. But is was not our day,” Erik ten Hag said. “The second goal was straight after half time. Second chance second goal, very clinical. It was a setback we did not deal with so good. But we have to keep positive in such moments and stick together and you will get back onto the game.

“You learn many things from such a game. From the mental side, you can keep strong in moments but I have seen some good stuff, the way we created many chances we are just not finishing them, but that will change.”

Highlights: Brighton 3, Manchester United 1
Goals from Danny Welbeck, Pascal Gross, and Joao Pedro saw Manchester United fans leave Old Trafford early as Brighton secure three points in a dominant 3-1 victory.

Is this just about bad luck?

Of course not, but United have the feeling right now of a team, and a club, being kicked while they are down.

The most glaring thing is that we all saw this coming. Their summer business in the transfer window was strange and given the uncertainty around the future ownership of the club they didn’t splash out the way they should have after a very positive 2022-23 campaign which saw them back in the top four and with a League Cup trophy in the cabinet. They didn’t build on the success Erik ten Hag delivered last season.

How bad is it?

Their three defeats so far this season against Arsenal, Tottenham and Brighton could have all easily been wins. But in all three they spurned big chances and against Arsenal and Brighton they had goals ruled out by VAR for painfully slim margins. But that said, their two victories against Wolves (in particular) and Nottingham Forest were lucky. I guess it all evens out.

Right now, Erik ten Hag has a lot going on. Injuries to Luke Shaw and Raphael Varane haven’t helped the defensive balance, while off-field situations with Antony and Jadon Sancho has further depleted his attacking options with Hojlund still working his way to full fitness.

What needs to change?

With the UEFA Champions League group stage starting this week (a nice easy trip to Bayern Munich awaits United), their slim-looking squad will be stretch to its limits over the next few months as they juggle midweek and weekend action.

Erik ten Hag is a disciplinarian and he is all about the team first. Right now, this team needs Rashford, Hojlund or anybody else to start finishing chances. That will then give United the confidence they need to at least get back to being genuine top four contenders like last season.

This season isn’t already a write off for Manchester United but right now it looks like it isn’t going to match the progress they made in Erik ten Hag’s debut campaign. Some of that is his fault, some of it his players and a lot of it is based on what is going on upstairs at the club regarding funds and decision making over player recruitment, a philosophy and a general direction.

Storm clouds are gathering over Old Trafford on many levels but a few clinical finishes in upcoming games will at least part the clouds on the pitch.

At least that’s what Erik ten Hag is hoping for.