Jamie Carragher lauded Brighton’s « out-of-this-world » football and said Roberto De Zerbi’s side are one of the best in the Premier League after they adapted their tactics to beat Manchester United 3-1 on Saturday.
Brighton, sixth-placed finishers last term, won for the fourth time in five games this season as goals from Danny Welbeck, Pascal Gross and Joao Pedro secured a commanding victory at Old Trafford.
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher took an in-depth look at their triumph on Monday Night Football, with an emphasis on how they adjusted to Manchester United’s surprise formation change.
Erik ten Hag’s side, who normally line up in a 4-2-3-1 shape, instead employed a midfield diamond, prompting De Zerbi to show his tactical acumen by changing Brighton’s approach mid-game, allowing the Seagulls to exploit United’s vulnerability out wide.
‘Man Utd’s system caused Brighton problems’
Carragher said: « Manchester United came in with a different system, whether it was because they had no wide players available or they wanted to try and get [Marcus] Rashford and [Rasmus] Hojlund at the top end of the pitch.
« There’s no doubt that De Zerbi and his players didn’t know this was going to be the formation until the game started and it caused them huge problems – not just with the ball, actually without the ball. They wanted to do a man-marking system and found it tough.
« If you actually look at the fist 19 minutes, before Brighton score, you see how on top Manchester United were in terms of their shots, touches in the opposition box and passes in the final third, and how often they won possession when Brighton were trying to build up from the back. »
Carragher then looked at an early example of Manchester United’s shape when building from the back, starting with goalkeeper Andre Onana, and the confusion it caused for the Seagulls.
« As the ball goes back, you see the manager, De Zerbi, on the side of the pitch shouting at the players about what they should be doing, » he said.
« You see [Mahmoud] Dahoud. His job was to press Casemiro, but because [Scott] McTominay is behind him he’s not sure what to do.
« Then you’ve got [Kaoru] Mitoma looking at the manager for direction. Where do I go? Because there isn’t a natural full-back.
« So, Brighton were man-to-man all over the pitch but they felt uncomfortable, that’s the best way to explain it.
« It almost feels here like Manchester United are trying to entice Brighton onto them, a little bit like Brighton do.
« The ball eventually goes long and, to highlight in some way that Brighton weren’t sure who should be with who, as this ball goes long, you see Mitoma, their left winger, with McTominay.
« There’s no doubt the diamond formation employed to start with caused them real problems. »
De Zerbi’s intervention and Steele’s influence
Despite the initial confusion caused by Manchester United’s set-up, Brighton were still able to play through Ten Hag’s side to score the opening goal, working the ball through the centre of the pitch before Simon Adingra’s cross was buried by Welbeck.
According to Carragher, however, the break in play that followed was just as important as the goal itself, as it allowed De Zerbi to summon Lewis Dunk to the touchline and explain and implement a significant tactical alteration.
« What gave them the opportunity to change was actually scoring the first goal, » explained Carragher.
« Dunk goes over to De Zerbi and they are trying to get to the bottom of what is going on. He talks to his centre-back and you can see it quite clearly. He mentions what the formation is and tells him what he has to do.
« You see him pointing and what he is talking about is that Dunk and Van Hecke have to go wider.
« Where we normally see the Brighton centre-backs stay narrow and entice people onto them, they decided they instead needed to go wider because that’s where the space was.
« What that did, which I thought was really interesting, was that it brought the goalkeeper more into the game. He’s very good on the ball, [Jason] Steele, we know that.
« But if we look at his pass maps from his first two games of the season, we see that the centre-backs are higher up and narrow, and there are a lot of passes through the centre of the pitch.
« We then come to the game against Manchester United. The centre-backs are deeper and wider and you don’t see passes going [through the centre of the pitch] too often, because that’s where Manchester United had their numbers.
« The space was down the sides and that’s where we saw the goalkeeper playing his passes. »
Carragher pointed out that Steele made 53 passes against Manchester United, significantly more than his average of 34 last season.
« He’s a lot more involved in the game, the reason being that because the centre-backs split so far, he almost had to be the middle centre-back and get involved a lot more. I thought that was really good. »
‘We are watching one of the best teams’
Carragher used the third goal to illustrate how De Zerbi’s altered tactics allowed Brighton to capitalise on the space United’s system left in wide areas.
« For the third goal, Van Hecke is playing small passes and bringing the Mancheter United players closer, » he said. « They have that confidence, we’ve seen that before.
« The difference is the position of the centre-back. Because of United’s system, Dunk goes wider, and they can use that space [inside him]. He’s confident to use his mate on the ball. He’s also got his goalkeeper there if needed.
« But when that happens, that means your full-back can go higher, it means the winger can come inside, and we always know that the striker comes deeper for Brighton.
« But the winger doesn’t normally come inside as much. What happens from Manchester United’s point of view, because they like to man mark, is that their right-back is with the winger and Lindelof has gone in with the striker, hence why there is space out wide.
« McTominay is in an in-between position. He was like an inside right. He wasn’t quite sure what to do. »
Tariq Lamptey exploited the space on that occasion, carrying Dunk’s pass forward and crossing for substitute Joao Pedro to beat Onana.
« So, Brighton adapted brilliantly, » continued Carragher. « That was the message from the manager, but then the players have still got to carry it out on the pitch. »
Carragher also highlighted the number of passes involved in the build-up to each Brighton goal.
« If we look at the players involved in the goals, we see that there were eight players involved in the first goal.
« For the 2-0, almost every player was involved, 29 passes. And again, for the third, almost every player is involved.
« The football that we are seeing from Brighton right now is out of this world.
« Is it a shock? I don’t think any result Brighton get now is a shock.
« I think we are watching one of the best teams in the Premier League and certainly one of the best managers. »