Manchester United return to Premier League action as they welcome Brighton and Hove Albion to Old Trafford on Sunday evening. Just before the international break, United exited the Emirates FA Cup at the quarter-final stage, losing 3-1 to Leicester City. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will be seeking to get back on track in the league, cementing their second-placed position this season which is a must. They will also compete in the UEFA Europa League this week, facing Spanish side Granada in Spain in the first leg of the quarter-final of the competition. United will know that beating Brighton is a must this weekend to continue to build positively.
Brighton manager Graham Potter will also be seeking to continue his clubs winning run of the last two matches, after three defeats and a draw in their last six matches. Brighton are six points clear of the relegation zone, having a game in hand over Fulham, who are the team with the best chance of evading relegation this season. United sit in second-place, a point clear of Leicester City, who face Manchester City, who are 14 points clear of United, on an evening kick off on Saturday. United have a six-point cushion over fourth-placed Chelsea and an eight-point cushion over fifth placed West Ham United.
How United have faired against Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League.
United and Brighton have met seven times in the history of the Premier League. United have won five times, there have been no draws between the two clubs but Brighton have won twice. United have scored 14 goals against Brighton, conceding eight in all of the matches played. United have won three penalties, scoring all of them with Brighton winning two penalties, scoring both of them. United have kept just two clean sheets against Brighton, who have kept just one against United. United players have been booked seven times against Brighton with no red cards. Brighton players have been booked 14 times against United with no red cards.
At the start of the current season, United played Brighton twice at the Amex Stadium winning 3-0 in the Carabao Cup and winning 3-2 in the Premier League. Looking at the league fixture, Lewis Dunk’s own goal in the 43rd minute levelled the score after Neal Maupay opened the scoring three minutes prior. Marcus Rashford put United ahead in the 55th minute with Solly March levelling the score five minutes into added time. It looked like it was going to be a draw but VAR gave a penalty after the whistle had been blown with Bruno Fernandes earning a victory for United. In this fixture last season, it was a 3-1 victory for United.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Sunday evening…
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke about both David De Gea and Dean Henderson in his pre-match press conference ahead of the visit of Brighton and Hove Albion. He suggested that the goalkeeper chosen in the starting XI for this match would be on merit. For me, that has to be Henderson at this moment in time. He has done well in the time De Gea has been out of the team following the birth of his daughter. Henderson played against Brighton twice in the Premier League last season, keeping a clean sheet in the first match, conceding a goal in the 1-1 draw in the second match. Earlier this season, he kept a clean sheet in the 3-0 Carabao Cup victory too.
Based on that, Henderson should continue for United, following his performances in the last six matches, in which United won three times, drew twice and lost once, scoring six goals, conceding four and keeping four clean sheets, which is a good achievement at that time. Henderson is a vocal goalkeeper and his distribution is largely positive which gives United a good strong defensive position, which is what is needed to get good results this season. United have nine Premier League matches to define their season, which could have been a challenge for the league title but will have to be a race to second place in the league.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw
United’s defence clearly needs some improvement in the summer with Solskjaer’s side linked to many different players so far and will no doubt be linked to more between now and the end of the season. United though should know who their targets will be at this time and should be making an effort to secure them ahead of the summer transfer window. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw have continued to be stalwarts in this team with Shaw the standout player in the fullback positions, being named as the Player of the Month for March, which is an achievement for hims after his start at the club which saw many injuries and losses of form.
Victor Lindelof is likely be absent for this match after pulling out of Sweden;s World Cup qualifier last week with a recurrence of is lower back injury so in this scenario, Eric Bailly will be drafted back into the starting XI to partner Harry Maguire, who had a good international break, scoring for England to beat Poland in the last match of the break. United will need to be wary of Brighton as they have got two good results against them in the Premier League and ideally, United will need to win this match in order to continue their drive to finish as the runners-up in the Premier League this season with Manchester City running away with the league title.
Midfield: Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay
Despite the fact speculation seems to link hims with a move away from United, Paul Pogba should start against Brighton in the centre of midfield. Some suggest that having three midfielders in the squad so he can play his preferred position is best, but for United that does not seem to work. If Pogba was really serious about succeeding at United, he would understand that. On paper though, he’s one of the best midfielders at the club and will be a loss if he does leave, which should be sooner rather than later so United can move on. Pogba has the ability to change matches on his day, which was not the case against Leicester before the internationals.
Partnering Pogba should be Scott McTominay who can play a defensive role in the midfield, as he did under Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer at times. Granted, it may not be the best for the midfield but at this time it will have to do. I don’t feel that Fred is in the right form to be starting at this time, despite putting in a good work rate when he does play. Perhaps him coming off the bench might help United to get the result they desire. Both Pogba and McTominay have scored goals this season, the Frenchman on five goals with the Scotland international scoring seven times so far this season, which is his best season for scoring goals in his career.
Attacking Midfield: Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford
The area of the 4-2-3-1 formation accounts for the majority of the goals scored this season. Bruno Fernandes has 23 goals and 14 assists, next is Marcus Rashford who has 18 goals and 11 assists then there is Mason Greenwood who has five goals and five assists, which equals 46 goals and 30 assists so far across the season, which is a positive rate of goals and assists for the club. Obviously, seeing more goals come from across the squad is a good thing but Fernandes and Rashford have been leading since early on ins the season and they have to be relied upon to get the majority of the goals.
Starting all three of them against Brighton is needed as United ideally need the win to continue to pull away from Leicester City, who are currently in third place in the Premier League but will face league leaders Manchester City later today. If Leicester lose, United could go four points clear of them with a victory over Brighton, which cold be the start of United pulling away from the third-placed team in the league. Fernandes, Rashford and Greenwood will need to be at the top of their game to get a result this weekend as Brighton will be seeking to continue their winning run, winning their last two matches after losing three in a row.
Forwards: Edinson Cavani
Edinson Cavani had not played for United since the 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace on the 3 March before coming off the bench in the 3-1 defeat to Leicester City in the Emirates FA Cup before the international break. He will be itching to start for United with the injury to Anthony Martial, who has been in terrible form this season having only scored seven times for the club, a figure matched by Scott McTominay and Cavani himself. The Uruguayan has the skills and determination to play the leading role for the club, finding the space to open up the defence for himself of a team mate, plus the added ability to score a stunning header.
Cavani will be a great starter for United as he is perhaps the best striker at the club this season but his future at the club seems to be up in the air despite a one year contract including a clash for a second year at the club not yet being agreed and time running out before the player will start to sort out his future. This could lead to United having to make a move in the transfer market for another striker this summer, which should be a younger player to build the squad around but also perhaps a player like Cavani, who could help them learn form the best in the game and grow at the club over a number of seasons. A striker that scores regularly is needed.
Substitutes: David De Gea; Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe; Fred, Amad Diallo, Daniel James, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek
Solskjaer can name nine players on the bench in the Premier League, using three of them during the duration of the match. He has not made all that many changes in the past month, needing to make four substitutions against Leicester with the squad failing to change the game and exiting the FA Cup this season. In goal, David De Gea should be on the bench, should he be required. Maybe Solskjaer will bring the Spaniard back into the squad and bench Henderson, who knows? In defence, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe will all be available with the expected absence of Victor Lindelof due to injury, but maybe he will be fit enough?
With Anthony Martial likely to be missing the match due to a knee injury sustained during the international break for France, there is unlikely to be an out and out attacking player on the bench against Brighton but United will have many midfielders to choose from, who could play a part – should they be needed. Fred, Amad Diallo, Daniel James, Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek could all be available on the bench, giving Solskjaer options should he need to change the formation at any stage of the match. It seems unlikely that he will make changes early in the match, so these players may not bet enough time to inspire.
Written by John Walker