Manchester United vs Brighton: Graham Potter's big chance to learn from Old Trafford tactical error

Ahead of Brighton facing Manchester United in the Premier League this Sunday, now seems a good time to recall a previous meeting with the Red Devils.

Graham Potter's Brighton suffered badly during a 3-1 loss against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season
Graham Potter's Brighton suffered badly during a 3-1 loss against Manchester United at Old Trafford last season

United scored three times helped by some very controversial decision making and we learned a lot about the Albion under Graham Potter on a testing afternoon.

No, I am not talking about THAT 3-2 defeat at the Amex back in September. Try to analyse everything packed into that 90+7 minutes and you would end up with a piece of writing longer than the Bible.

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Instead, we are going back to November 10th 2019. All was rosy in the Albion garden when Potter led his troops to Old Trafford, still very much in the honeymoon period of his reign.

Brighton went to the Theatre of Dreams above United in the table, sitting pretty in eighth spot and Potter was two weeks away from being handed a new six-year contract after less than six months in charge.

It was against United though that the bubble burst slightly. Potter showed real naivety in playing a high defensive line with an aggressive press against a United side who named Marcus Rashford and Antony Martial as their front two. Needless to say, the pace of that front pairing tore the Albion apart.

The hosts were 2-0 ahead inside of 20 minutes and without a string of decent saves from Maty Ryan, Brighton would have been on the end of a much heavier defeat than the 3-1 loss they managed to get away with.

Potter was no longer the tactical wizard who could do no wrong that he had appeared in the first 11 games of his reign. Following defeat against United, Brighton would only win two more Premier League matches out of 18 up to the end of February, getting dragged into the relegation battle until lockdown came along and a three month respite saved the season.

All of this is relevant because Brighton are surprisingly showing a match-per-match improvement on their returns from the 2019-20 season. What this means is that if you compare the Albion’s results against Liverpool or Sheffield United for example, then they are largely beating or equally what they did in the previous campaign.

Liverpool yielded zero points last time out, this year four. Brighton took one point from two games against the Blades, this year they have one from one ahead of a very winnable trip to Bramall Lane next month. The Albion have four points from Aston Villa compared to one a year ago, three from Southampton versus one and six versus Newcastle against two last season.

It is surprising because Brighton have spent basically the entire campaign in the bottom six. They have rarely put any space between themselves and the relegation zone, and yet based on their improving match-per-match points return they are going better than last season.

This improvement suggests that Potter is learning from last season, even if it may not be obvious from just watching 90 minutes of football on the television. The one game where it could become very clear just happens to be Manchester United away as that was the one match where Potter very obviously got everything wrong in 2019-20.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome. United might be second in the table, but they have recorded some interesting results at home, losing to Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Arsenal and drawing with West Brom.

Brighton meanwhile play better against opponents who want to attack them. 80 percent of the Albion’s wins over the last 16 months have come in games where they have had less possession; if United dominate at Old Trafford as you would expect, then the Seagulls will have a greater chance of victory.

A first ever Brighton win at Old Trafford would be another sign of how the club are progressing under Potter. How the Albion set up compared to last time’s horror show will be intriguing, giving another opportunity for Potter to show how much he was learned in the intervening year and how Brighton are developing under his tutelage.