AT this stage of the season, it does not matter how you win games.
For Manchester United, having slumped to such a disappointing defeat to Crystal Palace on the opening weekend, three points from the first of two trips to Brighton this week were essential, and three points they got, but that does not even begin to tell the story.
Outplayed, outfought and outthought for large periods, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side somehow found themselves seconds away from the unlikeliest of away victories.
In a game that ebbed and flowed, most of the time against their will, Lewis Dunk’s own goal and a sensational solo effort from Marcus Rashford had seen the Reds overturn Neal Maupay’s first-half Panenka penalty. And then mayhem broke out.
Solly March’s header looked to have snatched a deserved point for a Brighton side who had struck the woodwork on no fewer than five poccasions in the fifth minute of stoppage-time, but there was another twist to come.
Maupay’s handball, the full-time whistle, remonstrations from both sets of players and a VAR review saw the drama reach a dramatic 100th-minute finale where the ever-reliable Bruno Fernandes secured the win.
Solskjaer joked that he had never witnessed a winner after the final whistle before, and he is unlikely to see such events unfold again.
Brighton’s astonishing bad luck; from hitting the woodwork five times to their overturned penalty to the concession after the full-time whistle, was extraordinary and utterly unprecedented.
If Solskjaer’s United side are to achieve their objectives this season, the script this game followed cannot be repeated again either.
It may seem unfair to label Chelsea as top-heavy in terms of quality in this season of all seasons. After all, questionable defences have dominated the first three weekends of the season, and how the goals have flowed.
But if Frank Lampard is going to be successful at Chelsea, he won’t do it without balance.
He certainly won’t do it if his defence keep making mistakes. It seemed ironic that barely an hour after Lampard had justified making Thiago Silva captain, he may not speak the language much but his leadership qualities are key, Lampard said – the Brazilian was miscontrolling the simplest of balls and watching Callum Robinson race in to put West Brom 2-0 up.
It may seem unfair to label Chelsea as top-heavy in terms of quality in this season of all seasons.
Everton’s last two games have all been about goals, winning 5-2 against both West Brom and Fleetwood. Their new-look attack of James Rodriguez, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, plus the likes of Alex Iwobi in midweek, have swept aside those in front of them.
But their 2-1 win against Crystal Palace showed off a different dimension as Everton repelled wave after wave of attack in the second half. They packed out their defence with everyone helping out – Richarlison made the most tackles in the Everton side with four – and an under-pressure Jordan Pickford was barely tested.
Even Carlo Ancelotti admitted that some attacking prowess made way, saying in his post-match press conference: “The spirit defensively was good, we worked hard. We left out the quality, but the attitude defensively was good from all the players.”
But as the Italian will be well aware, there is still work to be done. Cheikhou Kouyate scored a powerful header from a corner and Everton have conceded more goals from set-pieces – 18 – than any other current Premier League side since the start of last season. That will be a sticking point.
For now though, Everton are among the early pace setters and got the job done at Selhurst Park.
The circumstances of Brighton’s bizarre defeat to Manchester United would have been difficult to stomach for manager Graham Potter and his players.
On another day, the Seagulls could have been basking in the glory of a fourth league home victory over Manchester United in five – and by the biggest margin yet – after a dominant attacking display hampered only by the frame of the goal.
Brighton laid United’s defensive frailties bare but were denied by a combination of post and crossbar for a record five times – the most by a Premier League side since Opta began collating such stats in 2003/04 season.
The unfortunate Leandro Trossard claimed a hat-trick of sorts by striking both posts and the crossbar, with Adam Webster and Solly March the other men denied by the woodwork.
When you hit the woodwork with such ridiculous efficiency you simply have to hold your hands up and concede that it was not your day.
But if Brighton can replicate a fraction of this performance, and the run-around they gave one of last season’s staunchest Premier League defences, their day will come.
Roy Hodgson spent much of last season bemoaning a lack of goals from his side. They scored just 31 times – the second lowest with only relegated Norwich scoring less – and only netted five goals after the season restart.
Things had been looking up though. Eberechi Eze arrived in the summer from QPR to try and fix the problem – making a positive full Premier League debut on Saturday , while the Eagles had scored four goals scored in two Premier League wins prior to Everton’s visit.
Crystal Palace notched another in the first half against Everton with Kouyate’s equaliser and dictated the majority of the play in the second half. There were multiple set pieces and plenty of possession, but they did not carve out any chances of note with Pickford only touching the ball a handful of times.
It will be a concern for Hodgson. Eze replaced the more defensively-minded Jeffrey Schlupp and looked lively, while Wilfried Zaha tried his best to the creative spark. However, Jordan Ayew was anonymous and the substitutions of Christian Benteke and Michy Batshuayi brought little improvement.
But it is only game three of the season and despite a 2-1 defeat – not all of Crystal Palace’s own doing – there were positives to take alongside those from the opening two victories. There will be no need to despair just yet. – Sky Sports