Albion’s 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford was not only the first game on Match of the Day but also the lead story in most of the Sunday papers’ sports sections. And why not? It was the sort of result and performance to impress even the most jaded of journalists.
The headlines and photographs suggested that the sports editors were more interested in a crisis at United than the visiting team’s display. But the experienced and knowledgeable writers in the Old Trafford press box all had lavish praise for Roberto De Zerbi’s men.
The Mail on Sunday’s Oliver Holt wrote that “there was no shock result at Old Trafford. As most had expected, Brighton won. As most had expected, the better-owned, better-run, better-managed club triumphed over an organisation that is still trying to remember what being a football club means.
“Brighton… epitomise so much that is good about football and have become the most accomplished ball-playing side in the Premier League. Under their manager, Roberto De Zerbi, they have become a team that the rest of football gazes upon in awe and studies in classrooms.
“There were long periods of their 3-1 victory when Brighton toyed with United. There were long periods when United could not get anywhere near them. Brighton are so brave in possession and so assured that it feels like an education and a privilege every time you watch them. They were mesmerising yesterday.
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“They are a team players want to play for. Ansu Fati, once hailed as the successor to Lionel Messi before injuries intervened, came off the bench to make his debut yesterday and nearly scored late on. Everything is imbued with optimism at Brighton.”
The Sunday Telegraph’s man in Manchester (and a United fan) James Ducker, noted that “Brighton’s entire starting XI cost around £17 million which, put another way, is less than a quarter of what United paid for their exiled winger Jadon Sancho, who spent part of his Saturday watching the club’s Under-18 team at Carrington before the senior team served up this collective shambles.
“Roberto De Zerbi did not even have access to a lot of his best players either. Julio Enciso, Solly March and Pervis Estupinan were missing and Evan Ferguson, scorer of a hat-trick against Newcastle before the international break, was only fit enough for a place on the bench. Brighton’s entire central midfield, let us not forget, was ripped out in the summer. Mahmoud Dahoud was the only player who started that De Zerbi had signed.
“Sure, De Zerbi took over a functioning team and club when he replaced Graham Potter 12 months ago on Monday, and not the toxic mess Erik ten Hag inherited in Manchester. But the Italian’s work on the south coast in double-quick time and on a fraction of the budget Ten Hag has enjoyed at Old Trafford is startling.
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“Brighton could have scored five or six, with Andre Onana – who should have done better for the third scored by Joao Pedro – denying Kaoru Mitoma, Ferguson and Ansu Fati, making his debut on loan from Barcelona.
“Brighton are a beautiful construct: permanently unflustered in possession and always, it seems, with an outlet.”
In The Sunday Times, James Gheerbrant wrote that “seldom has football offered such an object lesson in how smart practice can transcend financial inequality as is encapsulated in the short rivalry between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester United. This was the fourth consecutive Premier League win for the south coast club against their powerful but prodigal opponents.
“This was not a terrible performance by United, simply one in which they were outclassed in the clinical arts. Brighton had fewer shots, but were superior in matters of possession and precision: exerting control through their comfort on the ball, and punishing United with unerring execution in the final third. In those aspects, and that two assists came from Tariq Lamptey, playing out of position at left back, they bore the stamp of Roberto De Zerbi’s excellent coaching.”
Columnist Martin Samuel added: “Where were Brighton better? Everywhere, frankly. Not only on the pitch, but off it, too. The substitutes’ bench looked stronger, the recruitment is plainly smarter, and De Zerbi’s use of his personnel is brave and innovative. Imagine Brighton fielding an ostensibly weakened team at Old Trafford and winning as comfortable as this.“
The Observer’s multi-faceted author-journalist Jamie Jackson heard sweet music. “’Can we play you every week,’ sang the delirious Brighton fans, whose team moved Manchester United to near crisis territory with this breeze of a victory,” he wrote.
“Brighton, rightly, ended the game cock-a-hoop. Danny Welbeck, Pascal Gross and João Pedro scored for the visitors who were threatened only sporadically apart from the opening 15 minutes. Brighton flowed across the pitch, moving the ball through their opponents as if executing a training exercise.”
In The Sun on Sunday, long-time United watcher Neil Custis pointed out that Albion “were the last team to inflict a league defeat on the Red Devils here in Ten Hag’s first game in charge last season.
“Now they have done it again, and in even more emphatic style. They have now beaten them four times on the bounce in the league. Goals from ex-United forward Danny Welbeck on 20 minutes, Pascal Gross after 53 and Joao Pedro on 71 did the damage.
“After a very bright start, United were looking easy to play through. The Seagulls did just that opening the scoring as they flew through the massed red shirts with a brilliant move that led to the opener.
“It started with a throw-in inside their own half and finished just less than a minute later with a Welbeck finish inside United’s own box. In between there were 17 passes. The last two saw Welbeck slide Simon Adingra down the right and dart into the box to meet the return which Adam Lallana expertly dummied to allow the former Red a first-time finish. Wow!
“Brighton really are one of the Premier League’s must-watch teams when they are in full flow, which under De Zerbi they often are. A record sixth-place finish last season has taken them into the Europa League.
“The Seagulls also arguably were the better side in the FA Cup semi-final which finished goalless before United won on penalties. They have begun this campaign with four wins out of five, scoring 15 goals in the process. Brighton didn’t even have all their best players on the pitch. Yet they had United on the back foot.
“United were further behind thanks to another slick move from the visitors. Again they kept the ball comfortably before stepping up the gears as Kaoru Mitoma skidded inside, slipped a ball to Tariq Lamptey, whose square ball was brought under the spell of Gross. Feinting to shoot, he left Lisandro Martinez looking into space as the ball rolled across him and Gross finished.
“Joao Pedro started to empty the ground as he struck Brighton’s third. Quick on the break, Lamptey was the man providing the assist again from the left with a pull back for Pedro to meet first time with a thumping shot past Andre Onana.”