The international break is finally over. That means club football is back and the Premier League returns with a bang as their are some spicy fixtures on display. West Ham United play Man City in an interesting contrast of styles, for example, but the appointment viewing on matchday 5 has to be Brighton’s visit to Old Trafford to face Manchester United.
Brighton & Hove Albion are no longer an under-the-radar club. Roberto de Zerbi’s arrival has transformed them into a team that goes punch-to-punch with the elites. They are also becoming Manchester United’s bogey team, with their fixtures increasingly ending towards the Seagulls despite the gap in spending between the two teams.
In the last six meetings between the two, Brighton have won three and drawn one. Erik ten Hag will want to put things right when they host De Zerbi’s men.
Here’s the match preview and what can be expected from this game:
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester.
When: Saturday, 19th September, 2023.
Time: 3 PM BST
Referee: Jarred Gillett.
Assistants: Neil Davis & Darren Cann.
Fourth official: Simon Hooper.
VAR: Chris Kavanagh.
Assistant VAR: Matthew Wilkes.
The injury slate hasn’t drastically cleared up Manchester United’s injury slate. Luke Shaw, Tyrell Malacia, Amad, Kobbie Mainoo, and Raphael Varane remain out.
There is an extremely small chance Mason Mount might make an appearance off the bench but with the Bayern Munich fixture looming, that’s unlikely. Rasmus Hojlund is back completely fit after some games with Denmark during the international break and should make his first start for the club here. The same for Facundo Pellistri and Sofyan Amrabat, who could come in for Antony and Christian Eriksen respectively.
For Brighton, Jakub Moder remains a long-term absentee with a knee issue. De Zerbi is yet to issue a concrete update on Julio Enciso’s status but he also won’t take to the pitch in this game. The rest of the team is fit and ready to go.
Will United swallow their pride and beat Brighton with the West Ham blueprint, or will they go toe-to-toe and hope to outscore them? That’s the match story here.
David Moyes showed how De Zerbi’s attacking instinct can sometimes become naive, leading to harakiri. He played over their press, Michail Antonio was a nuisance, and with fast wingers running beyond either side of him, the Hammers tore Brighton to shreds while rarely having the ball.
Jose Mourinho would have done the same, it is now a test of Erik ten Hag’s pragmatic nature or lack of it.
Ten Hag has previously shown that he will change to suit the opposition. He memorably asked De Gea to kick over Liverpool’s press last year in the memorable 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.
Although the presence of Andre Onana (we’ll talk about him soon) makes it more likely that Ten Hag won’t have to abandon his preferred playing principles, Rasmus Hojlund’s fighting nature as a striker and his physique might make West Ham’s tactic worthwhile here.
Everybody already knows how Brighton play, people now arguably also know how to counter them. The question remains- Will they do it?
20-year-old striker making his first start for Manchester United and he’s already the key player. That’s the situation Hojlund finds himself in but it’s completely justified.
His cameo against Arsenal left fans giddy as he battled for every ball, should have had a penalty, and made himself a nuisance for Arsenal’s CBs who had had a comfortable evening till that point vs. Martial.
Against Brighton, he’ll be even more important.
Andre Onana’s famed long-kicking should come to the fore against Brighton’s intense pressing and the target of those kicks will undoubtedly be the Dane.
Winning those knockdowns will be crucial because it is not unreasonable to say that Brighton might have the majority of possession in this one. If Hojlund performs the role of a natural focal point up front, it will bring Rashford into play because it would leave him to do what he does best – run beyond the last line of defence.
A goal on his first start will be the cherry on the cake but for now, good old-fashioned centre-forward play is what United need the most after not having any since Edinson Cavani gave a glimpse of it before disappearing.
It’s the battle of two striking prodigies in this game.
Hojlund has already been discussed, but Brighton have a wonderkid of their own in Evan Ferguson. The 18-year-old prodigy is coming off the best performance of his small career so far. The hattrick against Newcastle truly announced him as a world-class star in the making after some great performances last year.
As a reported United fan, he will be even more driven to succeed and make a mark at Old Trafford. He combines strength and physicality with a serviceable pace to become the full package.
Then add to that his “smell” for goal, and elite anticipation, and Lindelof and Martinez will need to be at their best to keep him quiet. He might be playing in United colours next season if Erik ten Hag has his way but for now, they need to silence him for 90 to have a chance at getting a positive result and avoiding an upset.
Man United predicted starting lineup: Onana; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Martinez, Dalot; Casemiro, Amrabat; Pellistri, Fernandes, Rashford; Hojlund.
Brighton predicted starting lineup: Verbruggen; Lamptey, Webster, Dunk, Estupinan; Gross, Dahoud, March; Pedro, Mitoma, Ferguson.