All the optimism surrounding yet another new era at Manchester United was quickly undone just 40 minutes in to the new Premier League season.
The arrival of Erik ten Hag from Ajax this summer had Red Devils fans excited, and some promising results in pre-season had them counting down the days to the 2022-23 campaign. But the positive atmosphere at Old Trafford quickly turned sour once again.
Ten Hag was given a rousing welcome from the famous Stretford End when he emerged from the tunnel at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ for United’s opening Premier League game against Brighton & Hove Albion, and while his players started well, they soon crumbled under the pressure of Graham Potter’s tricky Seagulls.
Pascal Groß, who has been a thorn in United’s side before, pegged back the home side on the 30-minute mark and the German midfielder doubled Brighton’s lead just minutes later — smashing home his effort from close range after David de Gea parried his initial save in Groß’s direction.
Cristiano Ronaldo was introduced less than 10 minutes in to the second half, but he made little difference despite Alexis Mac Allister giving United a lifeline via a disastrous own goal with over 30 minutes remaining.
It was a memorable afternoon for those who made the trip up from the south coast, as not only did Brighton upset the Premier League odds, but they also secured their first ever league victory at Old Trafford.
For the home support, they would have left the stadium bitterly disappointed. This was supposed to be a fresh start under one of the most highly-rated managers in Europe, but the reality is that Ten Hag’s United looked no different to the sides of years gone by — with the same issues and concerns already starting to appear through the cracks after just gameweek one.
While there’s a lot to digest and take away from the match for all those involved with Manchester United, it’s glaringly obvious that Ten Hag needs to make several signings to strengthen this side before the window closes or it could be yet another dire season for the Red Devils.
The fans would have wanted an instant reaction from the club after the Brighton defeat, with a big bid for a target like Frankie de Jong the kind of reaction they would have expected. Instead, a £7.6m for Bologna striker Marko Arnautović was somewhat underwhelming and seemingly only angered the United fans more.
Again, it’s flashbacks of years gone by. In many ways, it’s similar to the signing of Odion Ighalo in 2020, when the Nigerian was brought in on a season-long loan from Shanghai Shenhua. That was an emergency move on Deadline Day in January, this is a move for a 33-year-old who has spent two of the last three years playing in China when there is over three weeks to actually get someone in who betters the squad drastically.
There is also a sense that United are going to rely heavily on Anthony Martial when he returns from injury. The French forward is set to be given a second lease of life under Ten Hag, but to put the weight of expectation on a player who has only scored five goals in the last two seasons due to a mixture of poor form and injuries is another recipe for disaster.
The uncertainty surrounding Ronaldo’s future and the inability to land top targets like De Jong and promising forward Benjamin Šeško from Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg is alarming. But Ten Hag has the ability and philosophy of a promising manager, it’s just a matter of bringing in some fresh faces and getting it all to click together.
After all, we are only one game in to the new season, so all the doubters could be left with egg on their face as the campaign progresses. We just need to wait and see if Ten Hag’s ambitions are matched by the club and his players.