Bruno Fernandes plays centre-back as Man Utd sink to new low in Brighton defeat

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Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes was instructed to play as a makeshift centre-back during his side’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Brighton in a tactical shift that highlighted how Erik ten Hag resulted to Plan Z at Old Trafford. The Red Devils were comfortably beaten on the day in a display that would suggest that the Seagulls are more ready to push for the top four than them.

Ten Hag has not truly felt the pressure since becoming United manager, but the nature of his side’s defeat – their third of the season – will ensure that the Dutchman starts to feel the heat in the dugout. The ex-Ajax boss’ tactical decision to take off summer signing Rasmus Hojlund in favour of Anthony Martial prompted boos to ring around Old Trafford early in the second half.

Though that like-for-like switch was not Ten Hag’s most bizarre call on the day. With United chasing the game, he opted to substitute off Lisandro Martinez, Sergio Reguilon and Scott McTominay and bring on Facundo Pellistri, Alejandro Garnacho and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

The triple substitution left United requiring a central defender, and Fernandes was soon seen being instructed to drop into the role rather than trying to unlock opportunities in the final third. The Portugal international was forced to slot in alongside Victor Lindelof when out of possession, whilst also still trying to push forward and consequently leaving significant spaces in behind.

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The ‘roll of the dice’ indicated that Ten Hag was throwing all that he could at the Brighton defence in hope of rescuing at least a point, though Roberto De Zerbi’s backline never looked in danger of conceding a further two goals late on. United were the better side during the opening stages of the match, though they found themselves behind when Danny Welbeck opened the scoring against the run of play.

Following a swift counter-attack down the right, the former United star was on hand to steer his strike into the far corner following Simon Adingra’s cross. The Red Devils thought that they had hit back before the half-time break through Hojlund after he tapped home from close range, but VAR soon intervened to rule that the ball had trickled out of play before Marcus Rashford’s cross.

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Brighton then took control of the game in the 53rd minute when Pascal Gross continued his impressive run at United with a fierce strike into the bottom corner after a neat piece of skill saw him breeze past Lisandro Martinez. Second-half substitute Joao Pedro then put the game to bed for the Seagulls in the 71st minute when he curled his shot away from Andre Onana and into the back of the net.

United were offered a glimmer of hope by Hannibal Mejbri when his shot found its way past Jason Steele, but Ten Hag’s side were unable to use the momentum created to craft any further chances.

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