Heading to the Amex, you could say that Manchester United were still holding out hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League. And, after a resounding three-nil victory over Brentford, the expectation was that Ralf Rangnick’s men would make it back to back wins against a side who had never beaten United at home post-war. But Brighton had other ideas.
It's fair to say that things couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for United, with Ecuador international Moises Caicedo striking from distance to put the team with the 18th worst home record in front. And while United were still in the game at halftime, they had been outclassed, outthought and outworked for long periods.
What many expected after the break were United’s key men, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, who had five attempts at goal during the game, with all five failing to hit the target, and Bruno Fernandes to come to the fore and show their quality. But, things quickly went from bad to worse, much to the bewilderment of Ronaldo, who was laughing in disbelief at what he was seeing.
Spanish defender Marc Cucurella got an eleven-minute destruction of United’s hopes of getting back into the game with a rocket of a shot that flew into the roof of the net to make it 2-0 on 49 minutes. And, by the hour mark, Pascal Gross and Leandro Trossard had added a goal apiece to register a convincing 4-0 scoreline.
With the eyes of the world watching, Brighton manager Graham Potter made smart changes to allow his team to inflict on United their fifth successive away reverse. And this also means that sixth place in the table is the highest possible berth they can finish in, with only one game remaining.
It was always going to be a long shot for United to finish in the final Champions League place due to Arsenal and Tottenham continuing to pick up points. But it was the way United collapsed and appeared to give up that was most noticeable and is sure to be a significant concern to incoming boss Erik ten Hag.
The Dutchman, who will be keeping a watchful eye over proceedings before joining from Ajax in the summer, will be reassured in the sense that he’s going to have the wiggle room to make immediate adjustments to his playing squad. And he’s likely to have a significant war chest available to make bigger moves happen.
Players such as Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata, who started the game at the Amex, are already confirmed as leaving Old Trafford in the coming weeks, as is academy product Jesse Lingard, who was an unused substitute. Question marks still remain over the future of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire, but the former’s goals are what have arguably kept United in the mix this season, and the latter remains club captain.