You could say there are several stark differences between modern-day Manchester United and their rivals Liverpool and Man City. And this has contributed heavily to where they are in the league compared to Ralf Rangnick’s side.

They have elite managers in Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp whereas United are in an interim period. They also have well put together teams of accurately-profiled players whereas Rangnick’s side is constructed of a number of individuals who don’t seem to know how to play together.

But one of the major differences between United and their rivals is a simple one. When they defend they defend as a unit and every member of the team is involved in stopping their opponents from getting a clear chance at goal.

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This has been an issue for United for most of the season and it was clear again as they lost 4-0 to Brighton on Saturday. Though many of Brighton’s goals and chances were created by individual errors from the backline, they could have been minimised if the midfield had given them the necessary support.

For Moises Caicedo’s opener, the midfielder was afforded too much space outside the box as no player moved to close him down. This pattern followed for both Marc Cucurella’s and Pascal Gross’ goals as well, as Brighton drew out United’s defenders leaving space behind.

On all of these occasions, United’s wingers needed to drop back to support the full-backs and Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay also had to both drop back to follow Brighton’s extra runners into the box. This can not continue under Erik ten Hag if the team are going to succeed.

If you watch Liverpool for example, it’s a completely different story. When Trent Alexander-Arnold pushes forward, their right central midfielder, usually Jordan Henderson, will drop in and mark the space behind him to stop it from being exploited.

Fabinho as the team’s defensive midfielder will also fall back into the defensive line to mark the gaps and stop any late runners into the box from being effective. This is why United need to sign a defensive midfielder under Ten Hag to play this role as Matic doesn’t have the legs to do it and McTominay doesn’t have the awareness.

Liverpool and City are the masters of this but nearly every other team in the Premier League is better than United at defending as a unit. It seems like a basic idea, but it’s something that United have failed to do all season and they have paid the price, but under Ten Hag this will not be allowed to happen.

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