Graham Potter showed he is ready for the big time as his Brighton side wiped the floor with Manchester United… no wonder Tottenham are keeping an eye on his progress
It was an hour or so after the drubbing at Brighton when Ralf Rangnick, in response to a question about the invertebrates in his care, said he had to ‘defend’ his players.
Too bad they didn’t feel any such compulsion towards their own goal, and other punchlines.
Rangnick will disappear into snowy mountains soon enough, and how will he be remembered? Or, more appropriately, where will the balance of blame fall between him, the playing staff and the club’s infrastructure for what has been an abysmal era at Manchester United?
Graham Potter looks likely to lead Brighton to a top-half finish in the Premier League this term
Marc Cucurella shone for Brighton beat United and Cristiano Ronaldo 4-0 at the Amex Stadium
Doubtless it did the German no favours at all in that regard to oversee what was arguably United’s worst performance of their worst Premier League campaign — compounded by the fact that the defeat came at the hands of a manager who is doing far more with considerably less.
There is nothing that flags grotesque underachievement quite like a hiding from a team that punches a long way above its weight.
Which takes us to Graham Potter, whose name is being mentioned with greater enthusiasm at Tottenham with each passing game.
Imagine, just days before Rangnick was somehow gifted the job at United, Potter was being booed by his own fans for Brighton’s draw with Leeds, and quite pointedly suggested he might require a ‘history lesson’ to better understand the sense of entitlement.
Cucurella combined effectively with his teammates out wide and posed a near-constant threat
Six months on and Brighton are close to securing a finish in the top half of the division.
By a stretch, it has been their best Premier League season – and one achieved against the difficulties of losing two centre-halves in Dan Burn and Ben White.
If Brighton hold on to ninth, it will represent a leap of six places on their previous high mark. That is, quite simply, not meant to happen in this jungle with such favourable economics.
SHAMBLES IS NO LAUGHING MATTER, RON
Ronaldo reacts to a risible United showing
Apparently even Cristiano Ronaldo thinks Manchester United are a joke.
The 37-year-old striker is not used to being 3-0 down within an hour and when Pascal Gross scored for Brighton it seems all he could do was laugh.
He may have 18 league goals but chuckling away as his side capitulated was a poor look for a senior player and club legend
It is doubly impressive when you think Brighton have pulled it off despite the glaring absence of a reliable finisher in their attack.
With the notable exceptions of the past two games – wins against Wolves and United with a 7-0 aggregate – they have sold themselves horribly short at times.
Indeed, their conversion of expected goals to the real thing is the second worst in the top flight, but that only points to what they do well elsewhere.
On Saturday, that meant the overlapping brilliance of Marc Cucurella on the left — an immense signing at £16million — the subtleties of Leandro Trossard and the suffocation applied to midfield by Moises Caicedo and Yves Bissouma.
That pair pressed Juan Mata into insignificance and it was telling that Cristiano Ronaldo received so little service he was reduced to laughter at one point at 3-0 down.
Time was that Potter was branded as something of a hipster’s choice. Now, with results like that on Saturday, he is creeping towards the mainstream.
If Antonio Conte does in fact walk away from Tottenham this summer, it is for good reason that Potter is considered the prime choice of some at the club to take over.
He was almost bemused by the links on Saturday, commenting: ‘What can I say? There isn’t a vacancy at Tottenham and I’m being linked with it. I’ve never said I wanted to leave.
MATCH FACTS, PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE AND PLAYER RATINGS
Brighton (3-4-2-1): Sanchez 7; Veltman 7, Dunk 7, Cucurella 8; March 7 (Lamptey 76min), Bissouma 7.5, Caicedo 9, Trossard 7.5 (Maupay 83); Gross 8, Mac Allister 7 (Webster 67, 6); Welbeck 7.
Scorers: Caicedo 15, Cucurella 49, Gross 57, Trossard 60.
Manager: Graham Potter 9.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6.5; Dalot 3, Lindelof 3, Varane 3.5, Telles 3; McTominay 4, Matic 4 (Cavani 46, 5); Elanga 4 (Fred 46, 5), Mata 4.5 (Maguire 70, 5.5), Fernandes 4; Ronaldo 4.
Booked: Ronaldo, Dalot.
Manager: Ralf Rangnick 3.
Referee: Andy Madley 7.
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‘Things change quickly. I was getting criticism a few weeks ago but let’s not forget I’ve always had the support of Tony (Bloom, Brighton owner) and the board. I’m grateful for that and I love it here.’
In a separate answer, he made a more general point about what has happened at Brighton, with the onus on work done by the club’s recruitment team.
‘We sold £65million of players in the last two windows and improved. It’s not easy but it can be done,’ he said.
Those words must have sounded like nails down a blackboard at United, and a siren call elsewhere.