Manchester United suffered a crushing last-minute defeat at the hands of high-flying Brighton, thus allowing the Seagulls to do the league double over them for the first time.
Manager Erik ten Hag was aware of the hosts’ desire to get one over his side following their FA Cup semifinal defeat at the hands of the Red Devils.
And his instructions seemed to hint that the Reds were up for the challenge, as the first turnover of possession fell to United and Antony shot narrowly wide from a promising position.
The first-half was an even contest with both teams getting presentable chances with goalkeepers of both teams — David de Gea and Jason Steele called into action.
The second-half was a completely different affair as United’s midfield simply could not hold on to the ball for long enough and eventually paid the price by conceding a last-minute penalty.
But the goal was coming and Ten Hag’s selection call and his midfielders need to share the bulk of the blame.
Midfielders failed to control the game
Roberto De Zerbi’s team are known for their turnovers and thus, the Dutch manager decided to bring in the energy of Fred to partner alongside the ever-present Casemiro.
But their passing stats were horrible throughout. While the hosts finished with a passing accuracy of 86%, United had a poor pass accuracy of 76%.
The midfield stats were even more stark as the reliable Casemiro finished the game with a 68.6% pass accuracy while his midfield partner had 73.9% pass accuracy for a combined 71%.
Compare that to Brighton’s midfield which had Mac Allister’s 89.3% pass accuracy and young Billy Gilmour with an impressive 93.2% pass accuracy.
Casemiro has faded badly as the season has progressed and it is clear to see that he needs to be taken out of the firing line. However with Scott McTominay‘s mystery injury, he remains Ten Hag’s best bet despite what he produces.
McTominay, if fit, is also not what the doctor ordered and is at best a squad player.
Casemiro’s attempts at trying to find his man with a first-time ball despite being in acres of space and having time to look up often leads to turnovers and it is safe to say that United need a backup option who can keep a hold of the ball better.
That is why Ten Hag was going after Frenkie de Jong as his ball retention skills and passing skills are more suited to the manager’s possession-based system while Casemiro suits a counter-attacking team.
And currently, that is what United are — a counter-attacking team. They do not have the personnel apart from Christian Eriksen to control the midfield.
Eriksen is someone Ten Hag would ideally bring on to break down stubborn defences due to his mesmeric passing range but he lacks the running power to be Ten Hag’s starting No 8 who is expected to be comfortable with progressive ball-carries.
As for Fred, he has long been criticised and rightly so and United must try and offload him in the summer. He is at best a substitute or he can do a job as part of a midfield three.
ETH style of play requires midfielders comfortable retaining the ball under pressure
He simply does not possess enough guile and passing acumen to dictate a game as the No 8. Without Eriksen, United’s game often become a helter-skelter affair with end-to-end action.
United ideally need two midfielders, considering Casemiro and Eriksen’s age and they should suit the manager’s needs and not what the club ultimately manage to bring in due to budgetary concerns.
That is exactly what had happened in the summer when pressure was put on the former Ajax coach after the opening two defeats and the bungling of the entire De Jong affair which led to the club signing Casemiro.
Despite Casemiro and Eriksen’s obvious talents, it is safe to say they are a stop-gap arrangement and Ten Hag’s project needs more ball-retention midfielders.
One defensive pivot in the mould of Romeo Lavia or Moises Caicedo while a No 8 who can carry the ball like Mac Allister did would be the dream additions from Ten Hag’s point of view.
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Courtesy : https://thepeoplesperson.com/2023/05/06/erik-ten-hag-crying-out-for-midfield-reinforcements-as-manchester-uniteds-midfield-ruthlessly-exposed-263604/