Manchester United’s humiliation at Brighton on Saturday night represents the low point of their time in the Premier League.
They have suffered heavier defeats – such as 6-1 home thrashings by Manchester City and Tottenham, plus a 5-0 drubbing by bitter rivals Liverpool this season – but this 4-0 reverse was the nadir.
It means that United will end this season with their lowest points return in the post-1992 era and they may yet suffer the indignity of playing in the UEFA Europa Conference League next term.
Manchester United put in one of their worst Premier League performances ever as they crashed to a 4-0 defeat to Brighton on Saturday night
The match at the Amex Stadium was a disaster from start to finish as United lost yet again
Incoming United manager Erik ten Hag will have been worried by the state of the defending
But that’s merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their problems right now. They are a team cast adrift, swamped in mediocrity and it’s hard to see matters improving much in the short or medium-term.
When Alex Ferguson’s team were beaten 5-0 by Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle ‘Entertainers’ in 1996, it came just a few months after they’d won the Double of Premier League and FA Cup.
In the autumn of 1999, when they went down by the same scoreline to Chelsea, they’d just pulled off the Treble, winning the Champions League as well.
Even the 6-1 loss to City in 2011 came in a season sandwiched by Premier League title triumphs. Back then, you knew United would roar back even stronger. They were England’s pre-eminent team.
Now, such ritual beatings as the one they suffered on the south coast have become wholly predictable. They are light years away from title contenders City and Liverpool – a gulf that gets wider with every passing week.
Interim boss Ralf Rangnick cannot reflect on his time at the club with any kind of satisfaction
Diogo Dalot reacts after one of Brighton’s goals during a very poor personal performance
What we saw at the Amex Stadium was a clueless and rudderless team that has simply given up on a season that when it began promised a great deal.
The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo smiling at his team-mates’ ineptitude after Brighton scored their third goal was hardly the best omen that he will stick around.
Interim boss Ralf Rangnick looks like a substitute teacher struggling to keep order of a mutinous class and desperate for the hometime bell to ring.
He and his players now face a purgatorial two weeks before their final game of the season – away to Crystal Palace – with plenty of time to stew on another dreadful performance.
Victor Lindelof (left), Cristiano Ronaldo (middle) and Raphael Varane (right) look dejected
United sit sixth in the Premier League table with one game left but West Ham could overtake
Erik ten Hag, no doubt watching the game ahead of becoming manager in the summer, must have shuddered at the prospect of turning around this listing ship.
At least one United player was at fault for each of Brighton’s four goals, as we break down here, and it only showed the vertiginous scale of the task awaiting Ten Hag in the summer.
GOAL ONE: Moses Caicedo (15 minutes)
Brighton’s opening goal originates down the left side with a straightforward cross that Diogo Dalot, under no pressure, only manages to head directly up into the air instead of clear.
Both Dalot and Alex Telles then pretty much get in one another’s way as they attempt to win the second header, with Telles half-jumping but not really getting off the ground.
That allows Solly March to chest the ball down for Pascal Gross, whose shot is blocked. When the ball rebounds out to Caicedo some 25 yards from the goal, United appear to have enough bodies between him and the goal.
But Caicedo somehow threads his low shot through the legs of both Scott McTominay, who lunges at it, and Victor Lindelof to beat the unsighted David de Gea to the bottom corner.
Brighton’s first goal stemmed from Diogo Dalot heading a cross straight up into the air
When Alex Telles fails to jump to win the second ball, Solly March is able to tee up a shot
It’s a fine finish but United should have dealt with the danger with Dalot’s initial header.
The Portuguese right-back has increasingly been favoured by Rangnick to Aaron Wan-Bissaka but, with Ten Hag to impress, he hardly covered himself in glory here.
Judging by the way his Ajax side is set up, Ten Hag will want dynamic wing-backs equally as comfortable pushing forward to support the attack as they are tracking back to defend.
The whole ethos of his Ajax side is based on a fluid team movement backwards and forwards on the pitch depending on whether or not they have possession.
The wing-backs are required to do this more than anybody and it’s doubtful either Dalot or Wan-Bissaka fit the bill.
There appears to be little on for Moses Caicedo 25 yards out and United seem to have enough bodies between the man and the goal. Yet Caicedo threads his shot through the legs of Scott McTominay and Victor Lindelof to find the bottom corner
Dalot has spoken enthusiastically about Ten Hag coming in but he could easily find himself ushered aside if the new manager doesn’t fancy him to slot into the style he’s going to bring with him.
Equally as alarming was a chance later in the first-half when Raphael Varane – who let’s not forget came from Real Madrid, is a World Cup winner and cost United £34million – completely failed to deal with a long and hopeful punt forward by Brighton keeper Robert Sanchez.
Yes, the ball is coming over his shoulder, but Varane only has to cushion the ball back to David de Gea or simply whack it back forward.
But his touch is awful and Danny Welbeck attempts to chip the stranded De Gea but fortunately for United misses the target.
A new centre-back will certainly be on United’s shopping list for the summer but Ten Hag will want to believe Varane isn’t the problem.
Raphael Varane looks to have the situation under control as Robert Sanchez’s long punt drops between him and goalkeeper David de Gea
But Varane’s touch is very poor and with De Gea stranded, Danny Welbeck chips his shot wide
GOAL TWO: Marc Cucurella (49 minutes)
Brighton’s next goal is the first of three in the space of 11 minutes early in the second-half which completely blew United away.
This time the problem comes down the right side from a throw in that Telles completely misjudges on the corner of his own box.
A low cross is delivered through the six-yard box which the unmarked Leandro Trossard can’t quite reach but has loads of time to retrieve.
Dalot comes over to close him down but barely gets within five yards and United are pushed so far over, nobody has noticed the two unmarked players – Cucurella and Gross – on the edge of the box.
It’s a shocking lack of positional awareness and Trossard can pick out Cucurella with ease. His finish is an emphatic one but it hardly helps that Lindelof twists his body out of the way of the shot.
Brighton’s second goal comes from a missed header by Telles and a ball across the six-yard box that finds Leandro Trossard completely unmarked
United’s marking and positioning is so slack, two Brighton players are left unmarked on the edge of their penalty box, ready for the cut-back from Trossard
Victor Lindelof then bends out of the way of Cucurella’s strike as it crashes into the net
The centre-back seems more concerned about protecting himself than blocking the shot and it’s another gutless act from a defender whose time at Old Trafford will surely soon be at an end.
Let’s not forget that Lindelof, a Sweden international, cost United £30m when he came from Benfica in 2017. He has rarely justified that money.
At one point, he was able to forge an effective partnership with Harry Maguire but that has gone to ruin and Varane was essentially signed to replace him.
Given a new manager is waiting in the wings, forming opinions about the players he will inherit next month, ducking out of blocks hardly gives the best impression and it nicely summed up how spineless United are right now.
GOAL THREE: Pascal Gross (57 minutes)
Brighton’s third came from another boot upfield by keeper Sanchez, which perfectly picks out the advanced Cucurella on the left touchline.
Something Graham Potter got spot-on during the game was the two-on-one overloads on United’s full-backs enabled by his 3-4-2-1 system.
In this case, Cucurella simply has to wait for Trossard to arrive on the underlap and that’s enough to take Dalot completely out of the game.
But the way Brighton then slip through the middle of United’s defence resembles a hot knife through butter.
Lindelof gets caught out of position and then almost gives up as Trossard plays a square pass into Gross, who skips around Varane before slipping the ball across De Gea and inside the far post.
A long goal kick by Sanchez perfectly picks out Marc Cucurella hugging the left touchline
As Dalot is drawn out to him, a simple underlap by Trossard leaves United completely exposed
Trossard takes Lindelof out of the game with a square pass and the defender just gives up
Varane doesn’t have the physicality to force Gross wide and fails to try the sliding block
It’s all very easy, with Varane not quite near enough to Gross to force him away from goal and unable to get the slide in to block the shot.
But United were undone by a simple goal kick which bypassed their midfield, an overload in a wide area and one simple pass into the box.
Lindelof’s body language as the ball goes past him summed it up. Like the kid in the playground up against bigger boys who just can’t be bothered to fight the inevitable.
GOAL FOUR: Leandro Trossard (60 minutes)
With United on the ropes, Brighton stream forward and score a fourth on the hour.
It begins when Lindelof races forward to try and close down Alexis Mac Allister, who is a long way from goal, but the Brighton man just whips a first time pass to his left to Gross.
That’s something Lindelof has probably learned from Maguire, who often brainlessly hares off in pursuit of the ball, and he’s left out of position and tracking back.
In the meantime, Trossard simply runs into the vacant space behind him. Varane, meanwhile, pushes out to try and get the ball off Gross, which is unnecessary because Fred is already pressing him.
Varane fails to cut out the through pass into Welbeck, who simply strides in behind the Frenchman and suddenly Brighton have two players in behind.
Lindelof rushes out to close down Alexis Mac Allister, leaving a huge space behind him
Varane is also drawn out of position, allowing Welbeck to slip in behind for Brighton to score
Welbeck cleverly dinks the ball over De Gea and Dalot, tracking back to the line, sees his attempted clearance bounce in off Trossard.
There’s a VAR check but the ball clearly goes in off Trossard’s midriff as opposed to his arm. Four-nil.
It resembles the classic joystick defending, where someone rushes out of position, drawn to the ball like a moth to a flame. It’s then very easy for others to run into the space they vacate.
All United’s centre-backs seen to be guilty of doing it and Ten Hag must have been having palpitations watching it.
He favours three at the back but if all three lack the positional nous to not dash out to the ball, there’s going to be problems.
Brighton’s Leandro Trossard scores Brighton’s fourth goal with Dalot unable to clear the ball
Watching this game back would have only confirmed Ten Hag’s darkest suspicions about the team he’s about to take charge of.
United will definitely need at least one centre-back in the summer and most likely a right-back as well. The left-back situation is less pressing with Luke Shaw currently out injured.
Varane is still regarded as a world class centre-half but playing for United seems to be dragging him down. However, partnered with Maguire and an assured newcomer will hopefully bring back his best.
Just as worrying was the way the United players just seemed to give up as soon as they conceded the second shortly after the break.
It just speaks of a worrying lack of effort as this disappointing season winds down and underlines the mammoth culture shift Ten Hag will need to oversee when he comes in.