Conclusions from United’s narrow win over newly-promoted Brighton.

Wing and a Prayer

A conclusion last week suggested that despite the public demand for Martial, Lukaku and Rashford to start together, perhaps it was a case of too many cooks. Today ALL the cooks had half an hour to try and provide a winning recipe.

Rashford and Martial started last season wondering how and when their opportunity to play as a front pair might come, considering they’d been the stand out strikers under Louis van Gaal. Today they played as wingers. Out of the quartet, those two are the ones you would play from wide, but it goes to show the scarcity of wingers in the game these days.

Ironically United’s goal came from someone who was a winger in a former life. But it was fortune and not exactly a product of the change which brought the breakthrough.

Endurance test

…as much for the United supporters as the United team.

Most rational supporters can see beyond the expectations of some, that the team should play as well all the time as it did at the start of the season. So we can accept off days and expect they are part of football. We can also expect that with some of these players — wingers as full backs, Smalling in defence — the limitations will occasionally be exposed. We can even expect that any game of football will be difficult.

All of those factors taken into consideration, Manchester United should still be expecting to play better against a newly-promoted team. Last season, by and large, Mourinho’s team could claim to have deserved to have won many of those drawn home games. Today, the breakthrough came from a huge slice of luck. It wasn’t a case of United earning their luck, though maybe it was a case of Brighton being punished for their own lack of ambition, however understandable it was.

Room for a lion

And so we were treated to the next stage of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return. His introduction here came with United needing a goal, and nobody could accuse Mourinho of lacking ambition, but it does feel as though there is still plenty of work the manager needs to do on improving his side’s attacking fluency and chemistry.

Soon after Ibrahimovic was brought on, United scored, leaving the boss with a headache about who to bring off to provide balance. That man was Martial. The issue comes in game management from that point. Had Brighton benefitted from one of their dangerous crosses, it’s hard to see how United might have been able to find a second. This is probably where it becomes an issue starting with Martial and Rashford. There is no telling how Zlatan’s presence might have made the difference if the game had wore on at 0-0 but if we’re being harsh, United were not exactly terrorising Brighton from all angles with the different threats of Lukaku and Zlatan at their disposal.

Perhaps it’s a bit of pointless argument because United made the change, subsequently scored and won the game. It just feels as if the experiment of starting with one of Rashford and Martial, and the other coming on, was working so well that it could have continued. Furthermore, one might feel that it is necessary restarting that experiment just so United have a more dangerous game change on the bench.

A sporting chance

Anthony Knockaert went down under a heavy challenge — a brilliant one, but a heavy one — early in the second half. Cue Brighton fans whistling incessantly that United should kick the ball out. Compare this to a passage of play in the first half where a Brighton defender went down as United attacked. No foul was given, and moments later, Brighton recovered the ball and started their own attack. The Brighton player promptly jumped up quick to try and join in the attack.

This follows a bizarre incident at Swansea a few weeks ago where a Swans player was sent back on the pitch to go down and waste time against United. This may be what to expect in the modern game. And on matters of genuine injury players should be protected. However, the blatant cheating (let’s call it what it is) to deliberately waste time should be the next big thing addressed by officials.