Manchester United did not make the dream start to the Erik ten Hag era that fans had been hoping for.
Having suffered through the messy handover between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign and Ralf Rangnick’s doomed spell as interim manager last season, supporters were desperate to make a fresh start for the 2022/23 campaign.
However, you couldn’t help but get a damning sense of deja vu when the Red Devils produced a dire first-half display against Brighton & Hove Albion that was taken directly out of the 2021/22 playbook.
Man Utd’s first-half nightmare
Ten Hag went all in with his midfielders as Scott McTominay, Fred, Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen all featured from the start, but it was the United defence that needed reinforcements as they slumped to a 2-0 deficit.
Pascal Gross continued his ritual torment of the Old Trafford club by firing the Seagulls into the lead after 30 minutes, arriving at the back post to get on the end of Danny Welbeck’s cross and duly tap into an empty net.
Pascal Groß scores for Brighton and gets Erik ten Hag's Man Utd era off to the worst possible start! 😮pic.twitter.com/Qx1I2omkTk— Sky Sports (@SkySports) August 7, 2022
And the Red Devils had barely recovered from that first sucker punch by the time they were once again picking a Gross strike out from the back of their net.
The Brighton midfielder had the United goal at his mercy for the second time in mere minutes as he gobbled up the rebound of David de Gea’s save from Solly March, finding the roof of the net and doubling the visitors’ lead.
Pascal Groß is there again!! He's bagged a brace against Man Utd 2️⃣pic.twitter.com/7rUU7vM1dw— Sky Sports (@SkySports) August 7, 2022
Roy Keane teases Ronaldo
Such was the dire state of affairs for United that Ten Hag had no choice but to roll the dice early in the second-half, calling upon Cristiano Ronaldo to try and pull off his umpteen-thousandth escapology act for the club.
But not before another United legend, Mr. Roy Keane himself, had his comedic say on the mattes as the Sky Sports cameras cut to Ronaldo preparing for his entrance into the game from the bench.
Making reference to Ronaldo causing controversy by leaving United’s pre-season friendly with Rayo Vallecano early, Keane couldn’t resist starting his analysis by quipping: “I’m glad he didn’t leave early.”
🗣 "I'm glad he didn't leave early." 🤣— Football Daily (@footballdaily) August 7, 2022
Roy Keane on whether Manchester United should bring Cristiano Ronaldo on pic.twitter.com/Wmd1y9ydO7
Never change, Roy, never change.
Difficult times for Ronaldo
Everyone associated with United certainly has a complicated relationship with Ronaldo right now as their unabashed love for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is diluted by his desire to leave the club this summer.
And sadly for United, even the addition of the Portuguese star didn’t have the desired effect as they almost presented Brighton with a glorious opportunity to put themselves 3-0 up.
However, much to the relief of the tens of thousands of home fans packed into the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, VAR perhaps generously deemed that Lisandro Martinez hadn’t fouled Welbeck.
Man Utd pull one back in vain
In the end, United did pull a goal back for themselves, but not in the ‘Ten Hag Ball’ fashion that fans might have envisaged with Robert Sanchez’s failure to deal with a Fernandes corner culminating in an Alexis Mac Allister own goal.
It's messy but it counts – Man Utd pull one back! 🔴— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) August 7, 2022
Game on 👀👊 pic.twitter.com/n8l3JG0eix
But try as the Red Devils might to grab an equaliser, never mind a winner, they were ultimately confined to the fate of having lost their first game with Ten Hag in the technical area.
A 2-1 defeat to Brighton presented Graham Potter’s men with a first ever win at Old Trafford, while leaving United to lick their wounds and stomach the reality that a tough road to redemption lies ahead.
Despite the promising signs shown throughout United’s pre-season tour, the crushing reality is that the Red Devils still have a long, long way to go if they want to make the Ten Hag era a successful one.