MANCHESTER, England — New manager, same old problems for Manchester United.
United lost 2-1 to Brighton at Old Trafford on Sunday in Erik ten Hag’s Premier League debut in charge, dispelling any notion that the Dutch coach could provide an instant solution to the many problems that have plagued the team the last season.
United looked vulnerable in defense – with Pascal Gross scoring twice in the first half to put Brighton in control – and toothless in attack until Cristiano Ronaldo arrived early in the second half.
And questions over Ronaldo’s future at the club remain.
Ten Hag has decided to leave Ronaldo out of his starting line-up after the Portuguese star played just 45 minutes in pre-season amid reports he wants to leave for a Champions League club.
But it’s clear why Ten Hag wants to keep the 37-year-old forward when United looked much more dangerous with him on the pitch, despite the hosts needing a goalkeeping error to pull a goal back.
Robert Sanchez failed to take a corner and then hampered Alexis Mac Allister, who tried to clear the ball to send it into his own net in the 68th minute.
United continued forward but never came close to equalizing as Brighton held on for a first win at Old Trafford in club history.
“It was obviously disappointing and the worst possible start to half-time to be down 2-0 at Old Trafford,” said United defender Harry Maguire. “Not good enough. We huffed and huffed and got one back and had chances to equalize, but it’s a bad start for us.
While United improved in the second half, the opening 45 minutes showed just how big a task Ten Hag face to turn around a club that finished sixth in the Premier League last season.
As the hosts dominated possession, the only good chance they created came in the sixth minute when a cross was deflected in the direction of Bruno Fernandes, who sent his shot high over the bar .
Brighton took the lead in the 30th when Danny Welbeck raced into the box to collect a pass from Leandro Trossard near the boundary line, then slotted the ball into the goal for Gross to tap into an empty net.
The second goal came after a quick counterattack, with Gross on hand to exploit the rebound after Solly March cut inside and had his shot parried by David de Gea.
“I thought we had an idea of how to attack and when we could we tried to press and put them under pressure,” Brighton manager Graham Potter said. “We were positive, brave and the boys gave it their all. Our performance in the first half was really strong.”
Ronaldo instantly gave United a jolt when he came on in the 52nd and set up Marcus Rashford for a one-on-one against Sanchez in the 60th, but the goalkeeper blocked the striker’s shot. The offside flag was against Ronaldo, but replays suggested he stayed onside.
He was the closest Ronaldo to making an impact, however, as the Ten Hag era got off to a losing start.
United’s players were booed at half-time and on the final whistle, with Ten Hag looking grim as he walked off the pitch.