Three decades after he went to university in these parts, Ralf Rangnick is still looking for answers. Answers for why the tune he orchestrates is so consistently awful and answers on just how low Manchester United must go before they bounce.
That certainly won’t come on his watch. He has only one more game in this woeful gig, and then it’s Erik ten Hag’s problem, so who knows what kind of send off Rangnick will be afforded by this gutless, shameless, witless bunch of chancers at Crystal Palace a fortnight from now?
Which isn’t to excuse Rangnick before he whistles and skips off to Austria. Not one bit. They were going quite well under him for a time, but that was a while back. More recently? It’s five wins in 18 across the competitions, and that says nothing for the defeats, none of which looked quite so bleak as this. A loss so poor that even their supporters sang at 3-0: ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt.’
Brighton put Manchester United to the sword at the Amex on Saturday, hammering Ralf Rangnick’s side 4-0 in front of their fans
Manchester United were in disarray from the start of the game and ultimately capitulated against a far more energetic side
Brighton set the tone early and were relentless, getting an early reward with Moises Caicedo’s 15-minute strike from 25 yards
The insult could be interpreted in at least two ways: as a commentary on the endless parade of garbage from their once mighty club, and as an observation of elite athletes puffing in fruitless chases inside the first half. Truly, they were as atrocious as Brighton were brilliant.
First, to some housekeeping – the goals came from Moises Caicedo, who United tried to sign, and then via Marc Cucurella, Pascal Gross and Leandro Trossard, with the latter three scored in the first 15 minutes of the second half. To say United lacked courage would seem a little basic, not to mention a repetition of what has been proven so many times before now.
Where this differed is that Brighton, for all their style and quality, are hardly known for free-scoring abandon. Quite the opposite, and here they could have had six or seven with better bounces. That they found it so easy was down in part to United’s mind-numbing inability to perform the most elementary aspects of defending – see the first goal – and also their failure to show any pride in their work – see the second and third strikes. By the fourth, even the VAR fancied a laugh at their expense.
It was a dream start for Brighton and needed to be a wake-up call to United, who hadn’t got out of first gear when they conceded
United tried to get a hold in the game but Brighton pressed them relentlessly and they could not find any rhythm in the match
Lucky to only be 1-0 down at half-time, Brighton were electric in the second half and Marc Cucurella scored after four minutes
United were unable to cope with Brighton’s intensity and half-time did not bring them any respite as they conceded early again
But beyond that incompetence, and figures for conceding which now rank as their worst since 1979, we must look to Brighton. And to Graham Potter.
He is the favourite to replace Antonio Conte if the Italian leaves Tottenham, and on this basis Spurs would be fortunate to have him. If only Brighton had a reliable striker, they would be in a European place; it is a measure of how well they have done without one that they still might.
They were simply immense, a group of players showing what is possible with the correct organisation and motivation. United’s hierarchy must view them as peculiar organisms from another planet.
To think, Rangnick’s side had arrived here with the wind of a 3-0 win over Brentford in their sails. As such he made no changes to his side, with Juan Mata given a second straight start behind Cristiano Ronaldo, who was stationed at the tip of the spear in a 4-2-3-1.
United tried to get back into the game but just as they did Brighton carved them open again, Leandro Trossard scoring a third
Brighton’s fans and players were delirious, as there may have been frustration that they didn’t score more in the first half
Cristiano Ronaldo can’t believe Manchester United’s capitulation so early in the second half, having been ineffective up front
The plan, as best anyone can ever tell with United these days, was for Mata to serve as the main line of supply with his subtle service through the middle. The problem is that once more none of it worked.
In this instance, that was predominantly down to the work of Caicedo, who either side of his goal muffled Mata into insignificance. It was similar in design and impact to the suffocation job performed by Yves Bissouma on Son Heung-Min in Brighton’s win at Tottenham last month.
The upshot was nothing of value made it through to Ronaldo across the whole of the first half. When he did see possession, he was a shadow of himself, with one pass into touch, a dribble out of play and a free-kick that passed 10ft over the bar, all before he was given a yellow card for sliding in on Lewis Dunk. His mood matched the performance.
Worse still was to come from United as Leandro Trossard bundled in Brighton’s fourth, despite Diogo Dalot’s best efforts
The game was well and truly over with half an hour still to play, time in which Brighton could have added a couple more goals
While his side-drama was playing out, Brighton were having a ball, with Trossard and Danny Welbeck missing a pair of chances each, albeit with the comfort of a 1-0 lead.
The goal, which came after quarter of an hour, was rooted in desperately slack defending. The move had started with a punt forward and escalated when Alex Telles botched a clearance by heading vertically. Pascal Gross then drove at the loose ball and the block rebounded to Caicedo, outside the area. He sent a low shot of limited power to goal that somehow outpaced the reactions of Victor Lindelof – he stayed oddly motionless as it rolled through his legs – and beat David de Gea.
At half time, Rangnick sought help through Fred and Edinson Cavani from the bench, but it was soon a rout.
The second originated with Trossard chasing an overhit cross with more enthusiasm than anyone in red, before then pulling back for Marc Cucurella. He smashed into the slither of space between De Gea and his near post – no one had tracked his run, of course.
A moment later, Cucurella was involved the creation of the third by stopping a long ball dead on his toe and rolling inwards to Trossard. He teed up Gross who skipped easily by Raphael Varane and rolled across De Gea. Trossard bundled in a fourth amid a suspicion of handball and offside, but nothing went United’s way. They deserved no better.