Manchester United problem was highlighted against Brighton

It was a much-needed victory at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening. Manchester United‘s results had been disheartening and three points to propel them back into the top four was vital. However, despite the 2-0 victory against Graham Potter‘s Brighton, there was an issue which stood out throughout the match.

The first half saw the visitors control the game, with 59% possession, and it was difficult to see how United would come out on top by the end of the night. Of course, some magic from Cristiano Ronaldo and a controversial red card saw Brighton’s chances of a result fade into the mist, but even with 10 men for 40 minutes of the match, the team from the south coast still created problems for the Reds.

It was almost a lesson in build-up play for Ralf Rangnick‘s men in their own backyard. Despite not operating with a highly engaging press in the opening period, Brighton were still able to break United’s lines and reach the final third with ease. One reason behind this was the role that goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was playing.

Often enough, Sanchez would step into the first line alongside his central defenders and act as an extra player in the build-up, this helps to create overloads and will usually mean that progression is aided.

The clip above shows this in action. Sanchez is directly involved three times on the ball while Brighton are attempting to build (once before the clip begins) and initially United are hesitant to press. However, Brighton are looking to circulate the ball in order to encourage a press from the Reds.

This occurs when Sanchez passes centrally to Yves Bissouma, who is then pressed by Fred after encouragement from Bruno Fernandes to step forward. The Brighton midfielder then simply plays back to his goalkeeper, who releases the ball to his right and then the space where Fred vacated in midfield is exploited and the visitors can attack.

The role played by Sanchez here might not seem significant, but it is crucial and something that he regularly offers to his side. This move actually ended in a dangerous opportunity for Jakub Moder, who’s dangerous header was excellently kept out by David de Gea.

The Spaniard made a typical save expected of him to deny the Brighton midfield player. A diving effort tipped the ball wide of the goal, but how did Brighton get this opportunity to build a dangerous attack in the first place?

It all started with a Manchester United goal kick, where David de Gea played short to his right hand side to Victor Lindelöf. The Swede returned the ball to De Gea, who could’ve broke Brighton’s first line with a simple pass to Scott McTominay who had peeled to the right to create a passing option for his goalkeeper.

Instead, the United goalkeeper chose a longer option instead. United lost the possession and it led to the sequence that I previously shown which ironically ended with a superb stop from the man who lost possession for his side in the first place. It was two direct contrasts in goalkeeping style. One was what you’d expect of a team looking to dominate games and the other was not.

Had De Gea passed to McTominay, the Scotsman would’ve had an overload on the right side alongside Diogo Dalot. It was easy progression begging to be used, but this is not one of the strengths of the United goalkeeper.

Instead, he relies on his shot-stopping abilities to be the best that he can be, and that has been paying dividends this season where United have been poor as a collective unit and have needed some moments of brilliance from the goalkeeper to save face. He has made 92 saves in the Premier League this campaign, more than any other no.1 in the division.

On the flip side, De Gea has had 11 matches in the league this season where his pass completion rate has been below 70 per cent. He also rarely looks to take part in build-up when his side’s in possession.

If you are a team looking to dominate games, you’d rather not concede so many chances. Is that directly the fault of the United goalkeeper? No. However, the teams failure to take control of games and be confident in playing through presses is impacted by De Gea’s lack of ability and confidence in such situations.

The sequence shown in this clip is just one example of this,, but what makes it more prominent is the role that the opposition goalkeeper has afterwards. The Brighton defenders trust him in possession and it’s no surprise that they are able to play some great football at the Amex partly because of this.

The save made at the end of the move by De Gea was praised by many, as it should be. But at what point do you look at the reasons that he his having to make these saves more than any other goalkeeper in the league?

Harry Maguire‘s poor form would be one. The team’s poor defensive shape another. But, one reason for this is the man putting out his own fires at times.

Would United benefit from having a goalkeeper who willingly partakes in build-up? Definitely. Can David de Gea be that goalkeeper? I’m not sure.

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