Manchester United travel to the American Express Community Stadium to face Brighton and Hove Albion on Thursday evening in the Premier League. United beat Brighton in their last meeting in the Emirates FA Cup semi final, winning 7-6 on penalties to set up the final against Manchester City – who are currently on a treble mission this season. Brighton beat United in the opening match of the season at Old Trafford, winning 2-1 in Erik ten Hag’s first match at the club.
United beat Aston Villa 1-0 in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Sunday on their mission to qualify in the top four of the Premier League this season. Bruno Fernandes scored the only goal of the game. Brighton, on the other hand, beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 6-0 in a thrilling encounter which should worry United as they will need to be at their best ahead of the fixture on the South Coast of England. Brighton are seeking a European place this season and it looks good.
Despite being just two points adrift of both Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur, they have three matches in hand over the pair which could see one of them fall short of the mark for European football next season. At this moment, that seems to be Spurs who are terrible out of form and conceded goals so easily. United are seven points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool with a game in hand over them. I looks unlikely that the top four will change this season. Which is good for United.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Dalot, Lindelof, Shaw, Malacia;
Antony, Fernandes, Sancho;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
Many United supporters might feel that David De Gea is wrong for the club but in actual fact, he has given everything that he can for the club. Yes, he has made mistakes and yes, there are better goalkeepers in world football right now. But that said, De Gea is a United player and that looks to continue with a new contract in the works. Ten Hag will have made this decision and if that means you turn on the manager, it’s you’re own credibility that you are mocking.
De Gea has 15 clean sheets in the Premier League this season and is leading in the face for the Golden Glove. To some, it is not a major achievement but as a personal accolade, it will be big. United were criticised at the start of the season for two defeats to Brighton and Hove Albion and Brentford. But they soon returned to the top part of the table and have, at least the majority of the time, been in the top four and it looks like they will finish there too.
I would expect to see either Jack Butland or Tom Heaton given some minutes towards the end of the season, once United have confirmed their place in the top four of the Premier League. That way, De Gea can be rested ahead of the Emirates FA Cup final against Manchester City on Saturday 3 June 2023. United will need to rest many of their top players ahead of this match to give them a chance against this resurgent City side, who are seeking to win the treble this season.
Defenders: Dalot, Lindelof, Shaw, Malacia
United have defensive problems at this stage of the season with just two fit central defenders and five fullbacks. The good news is that Raphael Varane could be back in action at some point in the not too distant future. This will strengthen United a bit more but Lisandro Martinez’s absence is a big blow for United. Against Brighton, I would expect United to keep the same back four that they used against Aston Villa as I don’t think Harry Maguire will be an asset against Brighton.
In the fullback positions, I feel starting Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia could be a positive. Dalot played well against Villa, but he needed to get further up the pitch into the final third and over more. Aaron Wan-Bissaka does that a bit better. Dalot is a decent player to have in the squad – largely a positive. Malacia should start at left-back because he needs the minutes and to find his feet in the Premier League. He can be a decent player to have in the squad.
In the centre of the defence, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw should keep their places. Both players were great against Villa and did all they needed to do to stop Villa from scoring. I believe that Shaw could do a job in the centre of the defence until Varane is back in the team – but he will need a rest ahead of the FA Cup final, just like all the other players in this team who have played the majority of the matches this season. United need better quality rotation players.
Midfield: Casemiro, Eriksen
United’s midfield has been strong this season – the strongest for some time at the club. Casemiro and Christian Eriksen have been the mainstay over the course of the season, despite suspension and injury affecting them respectively. Both players have been intrinsic to United achievements this season. The midfield of Fred and Scott McTominay, which was the mainstay at the club last season, was not good enough for the club to strive to achieve. This season, it’s different.
Casemiro has got himself a reputation in England, which is pretty unfair. He’s been sent off and suspended for things others have not this season. That said, he’s such a brilliant player to have run United’s midfield and he does a lot of work. His five goals and six assists this season have been great for the club – which proves that the goals have been coming from all over the pitch but largely from a few positions – which bodes well for the players at the club.
Eriksen has achieved something this season too. His two goals and nine assists have helped United and for a free agent last summer, it shows what a bargain the transfer was. Both Casemiro and Eriksen should start against Brighton and the likes of Fred and Marcel Sabitzer could offer something in the latter stages of this match. United will need that as Casemiro and Eriksen won’t be able to continue playing every minute of every match for the remainder of the season.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Sancho
These positions are important for United. The majority of the goals scored by the club have been scored from these positions with Marcus Rashford playing largely on the left-wing. However, at the moment it is expected that he will be the main striker, with Anthony Martial and Wout Weghorst not finding the back of the net all that often. United’s attacking players have had a good season but there is more to achieve for United and they need to be successful there.
Antony has eight goals and one assist so far this season, which is very good considering it is his first season in the Premier League. I would like to see him get his goals into double figures this season – that will be a major positive for him ahead of the new season. Bruno Fernandes is one the main sparks for United this season. 11 goals scored and a further 12 assists makes hims the second-best provider of goals for United this season. He has been impressive since he signed in January 2020.
Jadon Sancho has not been in great form this season and spent three months out of action. He has six goals and two assists so far this season and is the best player to operate on the left-wing with Rashford playing as a striker. He could find some form and inspiration at this stage of the season. United have few players in this positions to find the goals at this stage. The likes of Facundo Pellistri, Anthony Elanga, Wout Weghorst and Anthony Martial can all feature here.
Marcus Rashford has had a great season for United. 29 goals scored and a further nine assist puts him at 38 goal contributions for the season. What an achievement. Granted, he is better on the left-wing but has scored as the striker. The fact that Anthony Martial looks set to ens the season in uninspiring form, Rashford will need to be the player to bring the goals for the remainder of the season. I am sure he would like to cross the 30 goal mark before the season ends.
Rashford will need to be the leading creator for the goals to get United what they need – wins in the Premier League. United have a job to do and can get their UEFA Champions League qualification sorted for next season A few more wins could see that become a reality so United can start resting those players who have played a lot of matches this season. And there are a fair few of them to be fair. Rashford will want to strive to bring what United need and he will want the plaudits.
United have a few options in this position but in terms of quality, goals are lacking. Anthony Martial, Wout Weghorst and Anthony Elanga could all play in this position but only Martial and Weghorst have scored goals this season – seven and two respectively. Elanga has two assists with Martial and Weghorst both having three each. United will need to buy well in the transfer market to strengthen this position next season, or the same struggles will come from the season.
Substitutes: Butland; Maguire, Williams; Sabitzer, Fred, Pellistri; Martial, Weghorst, Elanga
Ten Hag will have nine players on the bench against Brighton, able to use five of them throughout the match. He used four against Villa so there are a fair few fresh players on the bench at this stage of the season. There could be an injection of youth added to the bench in the final matches of the season, with the aim to blood them in for the future. I would expect Jack Butland to be on the bench as the replacement goalkeeper – he will want to make his debit for the club soon.
In the defence, Harry Maguire and Brandon Williams could be the only defensive players available at Brighton. It is not ideal for United, but it is something that Ten Hag will need to get the team through. He could include some talented youth players, but I think they will get their chance later in the season. In the midfield, Marcel Sabitzer, Fred and Facundo Pellistri are all lively to be available. Zidane Iqbal could find a place on the bench, but one player here will be removed.
In the attack, something that United are very light on this season, especially in terms of quality as goals tend to be a problem. Ten Hag could have Anthony Martial, Wout Weghorst and Anthony Elanga available here. United will need to make do which this lack of quality. I had hoped this would have been a great season for Martial but injury and lack of form have hit home. Weghorst is a decent player and offers a lot of work but in terms of goal, there is a distinct lack here.
Written by John Walker