Manchester United dire as Brighton secure Premier League survival with win
Three quick thoughts from Brighton & Hove Albion’s 1-0 Premier League win over Manchester United on Friday at the Amex Stadium, which assures the Seagulls stay up for a second successive season in England’s top flight.
1. Man United dire, Brighton secure survival
It is performances like this that cost Manchester United any chance of winning the Premier League title this season.
Jose Mourinho’s team should still finish second despite a dire 1-0 defeat to Brighton at the Amex Stadium. They still need four points, but with games against West Ham and Watford to come, it is well within reach.
Still, the gap to Manchester City has never looked bigger.
Brighton secured their Premier League survival with their first win over United since 1982. United, meanwhile, have now lost away from home to all three promoted teams in the same season for the first time. You can file this under awful, along with deserved defeats at Huddersfield and Newcastle.
United headed to Brighton on the back of back-to-back wins over Tottenham and Arsenal. But judging by the first 45 minutes, you wouldn’t have known it.
Marouane Fellaini touched in Marcus Rashford’s free kick after two minutes only to have his celebrations cut short by the linesman’s flag. But if Mourinho thought it was a sign of things to come, he was wrong.
David De Gea, crowned United’s player of the year for a fourth time in five years on Tuesday, clawed away Glenn Murray’s volley after 20 minutes. He was forced to palm over Jose Izquierdo’s long-range effort eight minutes later, and Shane Duffy nearly scored from the resulting corner.
Mourinho was down the tunnel before the half-time whistle had gone, but whatever he said in the dressing room didn’t work.
Just before the hour mark, Izquierdo got to the byline and Pascal Gross, Brighton’s standout player this season, headed in. Marcos Rojo, making his first start since Feb. 3, did his best to hook it away but it was over the line — just.
Rashford forced Mathew Ryan to make a smart stop, and substitute Lingard skewed a shot wide, but that was as close as United came to an equaliser.
In the end it was Brighton’s night — a night that ensured there should be more like it next season.
2. Fellaini weakens bargaining position
Fellaini has shown exactly what he can do and exactly what he can’t in the space of six days.
On as a substitute against Arsenal at Old Trafford last weekend, he caused enough chaos in the penalty area to eventually win the game. One header hit the post and another — albeit off the back of his head — went in.
As a Plan B against Arsenal, the Belgian was effective. But as Plan A against Brighton — playing in a midfield three alongside Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba — he was anything but.
For too long he was too deep, picking up the ball from the back four rather than being a nuisance in and around the Brighton box.
Mourinho wants the 30-year-old to stay at Old Trafford, but this was exactly the type of performance that shows why so many fans believe it is time for him to move on.
Most supporters can understand why he is a useful substitute — something to throw on when nothing else has worked — but they don’t want the club to push the boat out to keep a player who has come to personify the post-Ferguson dip.
Sources have told ESPN FC that Fellaini’s preference is to sign a new deal at Old Trafford, while Mourinho has revealed the Belgian has been offered a pay rise to stay. The contract, though, is still unsigned, and his 67 minutes against Brighton did nothing to strengthen Fellaini’s hand.
3. Cup final auditions go poorly
Mourinho said before the FA Cup semifinal against Tottenham that there were places up for grabs. If this was an audition for the final against Chelsea on May 19, the only players to make a compelling case to start were the ones who were left out.
Rashford, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata were all picked to start with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez left behind nursing injuries. There can be no complaints when Mourinho recalls both the moment they are fit.
There has been speculation that Rashford and Martial are unhappy at a lack of opportunities at United. Sources have told ESPN FC that Martial, in particular, would consider a move away if it meant more regular football.
Mourinho handed them chances against Brighton to prove why they should start more games, but there can be no arguments if they are both on the bench at Wembley later this month. Sanchez and Lukaku will come back in against Antonio Conte’s side while Lingard, on the bench at the Amex, is likely to start, too.
Rashford and Martial — 20 and 22 — still have time on their side, but the consistency Mourinho craves is not there yet.