The Rebound: Man Utd boss Erik ten Hag’s Brighton comments are miles from ‘the truth’

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A look back on the weekend’s Premier League action, including Manchester United, Everton, and Newcastle United.

Even Erik ten Hag’s excuses are misfiring. On Saturday afternoon, the Dutch coach, with his general demeanour like a thwarted Thunderbirds antagonist, watched helplessly as Manchester United were systematically dismantled by exquisite vibes-men Brighton in a fashion more befitting of a bunch of decomissioned theme park animatronics than one of the most gargantuan clubs in world football. It was a performance that was bathetic and pathetic in equal measure; there are abandoned cones of chips on windswept seafronts who can earnestly claim to have put up more of a fight against a flock of seagulls (not the band) in recent days.

Afterwards, scrambling for some semblance of reason, Ten Hag seemed to blame *checks notes* the financial might of little old Albion for his side’s doleful outing at Old Trafford. Somehow, with a straight face, he said: “I think also Brighton, they spend money as everyone is doing and when Man United is coming, it inflates the price and that is also the truth.”

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Except it’s not the truth, is it Erik? Those of a fastidious persuasion, might be inclined to point out that Brighton’s starting XI on Saturday cost a combined sum of £16.2 million, or that United goalkeeper Andre Onana (a man whose name many supporters continue to pronounce ‘Andre! Oh no, no!’ and who does a remarkable impression of a Cameroonian Venus de Milo) was signed for nearly three times as much, or that this is the first time the Red Devils have suffered three defeats in their opening five league fixtures since 1989 and that the manner in which Albion chose to reallocate the Moises Caicedo money has very little to do with Lisandro Martinez’s slow transformation from ‘The Butcher’ to ‘Pat Butcher’.

But let’s not give United too much credit for their own demise. As shocking as the Red Devils were - and were it not for Sideshow Bob lookalike Hannibal Mejbri’s consolation screamer things could have been grimmer still - Brighton were sublime. Roberto De Zerbi, with his facial hair that sits squarely at the centre of the ‘David Brent/late ‘90s Eurodance producer’ Venn diagram, is enacting something wondrous on the south coast, and the stats - those precious, precious dictators of opinion - only serve to prove that point.

Since the Italian succeeded Graham Potter, Albion sit top of the Premier League for shots and shots on target, are second with regards to expected goals and possession, and are behind just two teams in terms of goals scored and touches registered in the opposition box. They are, quite simply, brilliant - and if they keep this up, they will almost certainly be in the running for a Champions League spot come the end of the campaign. Unlike United, who, at this rate, may have to choose between Ten Hag and the top ten.

Elsewhere, Arsenal ended their Goodison Park jinx with a win over Everton that did little to alter the general consensus on the expected fortunes of either side this season. The Gunners were nonchalant in victory while the Toffees were ultimately a non-challenge.

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Excited whispers before the match had suggested that Sean Dyche might roll back the years and employ a 4-4-2 with a double prong of hulking strikers. ‘Barclays heritage!’, came the murmurs from the shadows. ‘That one scene from Mike Bassett etc, etc!’, they persisted in clamouring tones. In the end, however, Dyche was able to suppress his luddite urges, and opted to start with just the one centre forward on Sunday teatime; the threat posed by his team was halved accordingly. Not even the introduction of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, emerging from the dugout like a wonky Zorro, could lay a proper glove on Mikel Arteta’s title hopefuls.

Every week, in this very column, I seem to write something to the effect that Everton should be worried for their Premier League status this season. Every week I feel bad about it, vow to try and be a touch more optimistic, and then I watch them play and the cycle begins anew. Still, it could be worse, at least they don’t have incoming owners who are, to all intents and purposes, an unknown entity, and whose global network of spindly tendrils have ignited ire and protest in subsidiary clubs everywhere from the Brazilian top flight to the French third division. Oh, hang on a second...

And finally, spare a thought for the Newcastle United fans who woke up in Milan this morning with their bellies in tatters having voluntarily hurled their torsos over the rain-soaked Lombard cobblestones like gorgonzola dragged across a cheese grater. Tell their ma, their ma, they won’t be home for tea - they’re going to A&E. In fairness, a few septic friction burns are probably a small price to pay for the privilege of seeing their side back on the continent for the first time in two decades, and the Toon Army will march to Italy with a renewed sense of optimism after seeing the Magpies end a run of three straight defeats against Brentford at the weekend.

Eddie Howe’s men, by his own admission, had to ‘win ugly’ in that one, but whether they have the gumption and wherewithal to execute such an unsightly gameplan in the fashion capital of Europe, an aesthete’s promised land, remains to be seen. They may talk the talk, but can they walk the catwalk?

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