Pre-season is now finally in the rearview mirror. The fight for points and potential glory begins now as the Premier League’s opening weekend draws closer. One of the games that will arguably draw the most attention will be at Old Trafford on Sunday lunchtime as Manchester United, under new management, kick off their English top-flight campaign against Brighton & Hove Albion on home soil.
From all of the noise that the Red Devil’s summer has produced, there is something that is coming out with encouraging and optimistic clarity – and it is really the most important element of all for arguably one of the world’s most biggest club. That is the general admiration of Dutchman’s coaching and managerial style.
The former Ajax manager has certainly learned a lot about his men during a crucial and rather impressive pre-season period, but now it’s time to buckle up and kick off his revolution with every game now of pivotal significance and much scrutiny.
What Ten Hag has brought through to his team already though, is refreshing and exciting for a team which endured their worst Premier League campaign in history last term. They have an idea now, a plan – on the pitch at least – a playing style and a confidence that is simmering because of the Dutchman’s wholesome and authoritative approach. What United wished they had in their fierce rival’s possession in Pep Guardiola, they’ve now looked to have acquired in Ten Hag.
He is arguably the first managerial appointment since Sir Alex Ferguson retired that is both on an upward curve in his career and at the forefront of the game’s evolving methods and if you’ve seen any of the clips from United’s pre-season, is that those methods are nicely coming together.
Whether that is enough to bring a return to the top four is a bigger question.
Brighton & Hove Albion, on the other hand, will head into their sixth successive Premier League season off the back of their highest-ever top-flight finish last season.
Having feared relegation in previous years, revolutionary manager Graham Potter guided the Seagulls to a superb ninth-placed finish in 2021-22, 16 points clear of the bottom three and only five points behind the European places.
Whether Brighton can kick on and push for another top-10 finish or even break into the top seven remains to be seen, but their progressive footballing philosophy with a youthful squad will be on show once again at the Amex Stadium this term.
If history is any indication, Brighton are not going to make it easy for Ten Hag in his first taste of Premier League action. Brighton famously beat United 4-0 at the Amex last season and lost narrowly at Old Trafford, so don’t be surprised to see Potter’s men come out with all three points come Sunday evening.
However, only four teams scored fewer goals than the Seagulls in the top flight last season – three of which were relegated – so while their forward-thinking brand of football is pleasing on the eye, improvements need to be made in the final third if they are to match or better last season’s ninth-place finish.
Considering the majority of other mid-table clubs have improved their squads over the summer, Potter’s men are at risk of falling behind the chasing pack who are seeking to break into the top half or top seven.
The Seagulls should have enough quality at their disposal to avoid a relegation battle, but they may be forced to settle for a mid-table finish this time around.
WHERE AND WHEN?
Venue: Old Trafford.
Date: Sunday, 7th August 2022.
Time: 14:00PM (BST).
Referee: Paul Tierney.
Assistant referee: Constantine Hatzidakis, Neil Davies.
Fourth official: Michael Salisbury.
VAR: John Brooks.
Assistant VAR: Timothy Wood.
There are still question marks surrounding the future of Cristiano Ronaldo, with the player seemingly keen to leave Old Trafford this summer. Despite this cloud looming over Ten Hag right now, he should be available for selection in Sunday’s clash against Brighton with no move materialising yet.
However, it does seem incredibly unlikely that the Portuguese striker will start, since he has not trained much, and has only played 45 minutes in pre-season, against Rayo Vallecano last weekend.
Rejuvenated Anthony Martial is expected to lead the line for Ten Hag’s men, after impressing during pre-season scoring three goals, and will no doubt be hoping to carry it into United’s first competitive game this Sunday.
United must wait on the fitness of Uruguay winger Facundo Pellistri. The 20-year-old went off with an injury in United’s penultimate pre-season game against Atletico Madrid in Oslo last Saturday and there has been no update on his status since.
Both Jadon Sancho and Luke Shaw also missed the game against Atleti due to illness – Shaw did not travel with the squad, and Sancho fell ill on the morning of the game. It remains to be seen whether either player will be involved against the Seagulls.
Graham Potter’s men have lost one of their most important players during the summer transfer window, with Malian international midfielder Yves Bissouma leaving the Amex to join Tottenham for a fee of around £26 million.
Left-back Marc Cucurella may not be available after it was claimed that he is due to move to Chelsea for a fee exceeding £50 million, although the club have denied such reports.
Poland international Jakub Moder continues his road to recovery from a cruciate injury.
He suffered an ACL injury at the start of April and will be unavailable for this Sunday’s game, otherwise Potter is expected to have a fully fit squad for Sunday’s opener at Old Trafford.
Manchester United, under Erik ten Hag, look to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation during pre-season. The Red Devils have made three signings so far, with all of them expected to play a key role during the course of the whole season.
However, Christian Eriksen might have to wait for a first start for the club. Left-back Tyrell Malacia and marquee centre-back signing Lisandro Martinez, could be set to be thrown at the deep end from the get-go. Ten Hag’s ideal team for his new team could take some time to take shape, but already the foundations have been laid surrounding how he wants his side to play.
All three of their new additions are perfectly suited to the Dutchman’s progressive and front-footed positional and possession-based style. Martinez should start alongside captain Harry Maguire, while Diogo Dalot would round up the defence as Aaron wan-Bissaka remains in the cold. The “McFred” midfield combination might begin the season as first choice, with the Frenkie De Jong saga still ongoing.
Up front, it is uncertain whether Jadon Sancho looks to have recovered from a knock he had during pre-season, but should he be fit, he should become a key member of Ten Hag’s attack this season alongside Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. Remains to be seen whether United will be adding to their attack this summer, and the former Ajax boss will be hoping the Old Trafford hierarchy proves effective in their operations to strengthen both up front and in the wide areas.
Brighton, on the other hand, looks weaker than last season, having lost talisman Yves Bissouma to Spurs this window and are embroiled in a saga of their own with last season’s club Player of the Season Marc Cucurella on the verge of joining Chelsea in the coming days. That deal is believed to be done, though the Seagulls could announce the agreed deal once they secure Stamford Bridge academy graduate Levi Colwill who is reportedly the subject of a bid from the South Coast club.
A gaping hole lies in the midfield and at left-back spot due to departures, although exciting young Ecuadorian talent Moisés Caicedo is set for a key role in Graham Potter’s midfield after impressing towards the end of last term and during pre-season. An area where they are secure is the GK spot, with the ever-reliable Roberto Sanchez set for another good season between the sticks.
PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Sancho arrived at Man United last summer off the back of scoring 50 goals and registering 64 assists in 136 appearances for Borussia Dortmund.
By his own high standards, the 2021-22 campaign proved to be a disappointment for the England international, who only managed five goals and three assists in 37 appearances in all competitions.
Sancho has been in brilliant form during pre-season, though, scoring against Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, while he also set up his side’s second against Steven Gerrard’s side in Perth.
Much will be expected of him this campaign, and he certainly holds the capabilities to become one of the Premier League’s best attackers. An excellent and influential commodity in the final third, Sancho should turn out to be a crucial element in Ten Hag’s attacking system, and with the freedom, the Dutchman is expected to hand to him, don’t be surprised to see the former Manchester City academy star register double figures for both goals and assists this coming campaign.
With the World Cup on the horizon, Sancho has a few months to impress Gareth Southgate and fight for his spot back on the plane to Qatar.
Amid the uncertainty surrounding Ronaldo’s future, Man United need their forwards to hit the ground running at the start of the campaign, and Sancho will surely be fired up for the opener with Brighton.
Leandro Trossard has been one of Brighton’s key attacking assets since joining the club three years ago and he remains an important part of Potter’s plans going forward.
The 27-year-old Belgian started 32 of his 34 Premier League appearances last season registering eight goals and three assists, contributing to more goals than any of his teammates. He’ll be hoping he can increase those numbers this campaign and the whole club will be expecting him to build on a solid campaign last term.
Potter’s flexible frontline allows Trossard to roam from out wide into central areas, causing problems for opposition defenders attempting to mark the tricky Belgium international.
The Belgian international is now an established Premier League player representing the Seagulls 100 times in the top flight and he will be one of the first names on Potter’s teamsheet in 2022-23.
While Yves Bissouma has left and Marc Cucurella also potentially heading out of the exit door, Trossard is expected to stay at the Amex Stadium and he will be hoping to fire Brighton towards another top-10 finish this season.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Dalot, Maguire, Martinez, Malacia; McTominay, Fred; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
Brighton & Hove Albion (3-4-3): Sanchez; Veltman, Dunk, Webster; Lamptey, Mwepu, Alzate, Gross; Mac Allister, Trossard, Welbeck.