It is 11 seasons since Manchester United were crowned champions. They’ve been the Premier League’s biggest spenders in that time, with an outlay of more than £1billion — but they’re currently 11th in the table.
They are still securing strong results at Old Trafford, albeit their home wins over Wolves and Forest were unconvincing. Away from home, however, their alarmingly poor form has carried on with defeats at Tottenham and Arsenal. Standards have slipped.
In every game they are set up in the same way with an open midfield, which Brighton could exploit on Saturday if Erik ten Hag has not used the international break to strike a better balance.
Casemiro has been sitting deep with Christian Eriksen and Bruno Fernandes further forward, either side of him. United are the Premier League’s worst culprits for letting opponents dribble past them and Casemiro tops the list.
But it does not help that the 31-year-old Brazilian is often left on his own to deal with the flood of opposition players coming through the middle. In the defeat by Arsenal, when keeper Andre Onana had the ball, Casemiro was dropping between the centre backs. That takes United’s most combative midfielder away from the centre and tasks Eriksen and Fernandes with winning the ball back when they lose possession.
Casemiro has been poor for Manchester United this season but has been left exposed in midfield during games
Fellow midfielders Bruno Fernandes (left) and Christian Eriksen (right) have not been able to provide cover
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United have not looked comfortable in the system and, against Arsenal, they often resorted to long passes in the hope Marcus Rashford could make something of a one-v-one opportunity.
When Casemiro dropped to create a back three, Ten Hag was ordering his full backs to get high and wide. Aaron Wan-Bissaka looked wary of carrying out that instruction because he was not getting cover from midfield, and there was nobody screening the passes into the counter-attacking Gabriel Martinelli.
Mikel Arteta’s men exploited that vulnerability for their first goal. Wan-Bissaka was left in a two-v-one situation. Casemiro could not get across to deal with the danger. Fernandes was too far forward. Eriksen retreated into the back line when he should have sat on the edge of the box to stop Martin Odegaard. As soon as Odegaard scored, Fernandes and Eriksen were blaming each other.
Sofyan Amrabat has arrived on loan from Fiorentina for the season but remains out injured
Sofyan Amrabat has now arrived but the defensive midfielder hasn’t kicked a ball this season. One assumes United have worked hard to get him fit.
United need to take care of the ball because Brighton will press them high. Roberto De Zerbi’s men have recorded more high turnovers than any other Premier League side this season. They even go after the keeper.
Kaoru Mitoma is one of the best ball-carriers in the division and could run riot. Evan Ferguson is threatening to become the most dangerous striker in England after Erling Haaland.
United must put up a more convincing performance, find a better balance and get a result. Lose this one and Ten Hag will be facing a full-blown crisis.