Manchester United’s nightmare start to the 2023/24 season continued on Saturday afternoon as they were beaten 3-1 by Brighton at Old Trafford.
The was an air of optimism at Old Trafford before kick-off as Danish forward Rasmus Hojlund was handed his first start for the club, having only made a brief appearance from the bench against Arsenal before the international break.
In the end, it turned into a bit of a nightmare full debut for Hojlund on account of the result and having a goal ruled out which could have changed the game.
Manchester United actually started in a positive manner against the Seagulls and, while they certainly weren’t blowing Roberto De Zerbi’s side away, they looked more likely to get the opening goal.
Marcus Rashford had a shot from a tight angle saved by Jason Steele and Hojlund nearly got on the end of a cross from the England winger, with the pair seeming to work very well together. Then Danny Welbeck’s opener arrived and Ten Hag’s side never really recovered.
However, it seemed they had when Rashford got to the byline and squeezed the ball into the box where Hojlund was waiting to adjust his body and instinctively send a finish into the bottom corner. He wheeled away in celebration, but then the VAR check came.
It turned out that as Rashford got to the byline, the ball had very slightly gone out of play, denying Hojlund a first Red Devils goal through no fault of his own. One angle which did the rounds on social media suggested the ball had not gone out of play, but another showed conclusively it had just crossed the line.
There were a couple of instances of the home fans booing at Old Trafford on Saturday, mainly at the full-time whistle. The discontent was heard loudly when Hojlund, one of the few players in red not having too bad a game, was substituted. It also didn’t help that it was Anthony Martial, a player Man Utd fans seem very bored of watching, who replaced him.
Ten Hag spoke to the press after the match about the substitution and explained it was made for fitness reasons.
“I think it was positive, you see that the fans in the first moment in Old Trafford, the reception for [Hojlund] was great, I think he performed very well,” he said.
“So I think it’s good that they give him this signal, this message. It will give him belief, Rasmus, but everyone knows he came in with a small issue, we built him over the past three, four weeks, he’s not ready for a whole game. And we have many games to play [at] short notice, so yeah, we have to build him also in fitness.”
When Tag Hag was asked if the boos were for Martial coming on rather than Hojlund being brought off, he said: “I think it was because Rasmus Hojlund came off. But I don’t want to discuss that, I don’t know.
“But I think Anthony Martial every time, last year, every time when he had a very positive effect on our games. I think even we almost lost no games with Anthony Martial on the pitch. If that’s the fact, I don’t understand, because when he is fit, he definitely will contribute.”