MAN UTD VS BRIGHTON
Saturday 16th September, 3:00pm
Man Utd @ 6/5
Brighton @ 19/10
Draw @ 3/1
Grey shirts; capricious winds; dodgy lasagna. A strange dearth of ball-boys; a midnight frog chorus…
No, this isn’t a missing verse from My Favourite Things – famously sung by Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music – rather, it is a list of reasons cited by various football managers to explain why their team performed poorly in a particular match.
Managers are always on the lookout for a decent excuse following a drab display or defeat. And, if they can’t find one of those, they are usually content to persevere with a rubbish one – an excuse so flimsy and tenuous it would make a politician blush. Anything to avoid pointing the finger of blame at themselves.
We have now reached the stage of the season where we’re going to be hearing a lot more of the latter. Because as we approach Gameweek 5, managers can no longer use simple early season lethargy as an excuse.
The summer transfer window has now closed too, so if a gaping pothole still exists on the right-hand side of their XI, it is the manager’s fault it hasn’t been identified and filled. And the international break has also given Premier League tinkermen time to think about any minor tweaks they might need to make to their respective formations following the early outings.
After a less than impressive start to the season, Erik ten Hag has drawn criticism for the number of excuses he has sought to employ in his recent post-match press conferences. What looked to be evolving into a very creditable, solid away performance at The Emirates two weeks ago quickly deliquesced into an unwelcome, primordial mush in the final few minutes.
A lot of things and people were to blame for this outcome; and none of them were bald, Dutch, and called Erik.
Specific reference was made to Jadon Sancho and his poor approach to training, but now that he has been removed from the process altogether, that’s another ‘scapegoat’ that can’t be used this weekend. Two further wingers have disappeared into clouds of allegations; injuries have struck the central defence with regularity. Are these valid excuses the boss can call upon if his team continues to underperform?
Manchester United will be hoping that all the questions are answered on the pitch this Saturday, but their 3pm fixture against Brighton is one of the most problematic and evenly matched of the weekend.
It is now over 10 years since Sir Alex Ferguson hung up his hairdryer and retired as manager of the Red Devils. But the spectre of Ferguson continues to loom large over the team – TV producers frequently choose to show the Glaswegian up in the stands; thunder-faced, violently grinding ubiquitous gum between his molars as if it was as hard as quartz.
The presence of a much younger Ferguson could strike further fear into the Manchester United defence in Gameweek 5. The injury-buckled Old Trafford backline will be hoping that imposing Irish prodigy, Evan, will also be deemed insufficiently fit to participate. Besides, doesn’t poor Harry Maguire look haunted enough right now?
Another player who has been described as haunted – by the weight of expectation; by being labeled the heir to Lionel Messi’s throne – is Barcelona’s former-prodigy Ansu Fati. Now on loan at Brighton, it will be fascinating to see if this new Seagull can unburden himself of his leaden albatross.
Many managers – and players – will be left scrabbling around for something that they can blame for their poor performances this weekend. But if Erik ten Hag can no longer blame it on the Sancho. Can’t blame the injury plight. Can’t blame it on the off-sides. Well, maybe he’ll have to resort to blaming his side’s poor performances on the boogie?
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