Manchester United travel down to Brighton on Sunday hoping for a second win of the season. Against Leicester, they recorded an unnecessarily precarious win, albeit with a lot of their players missing. Now, with their World Cup players back and available for selection, Mourinho has a much larger group to choose from. Can they inspire victory at the Amex? Let’s see what the stats can tell us.
Predicted starting eleven
Pogba was thrown straight in at the deep end last week despite not having a pre-season. But this week Young, Jones, Fellaini, Lingard and Lukaku are in the frame to start. Lukaku will almost certainly return for Rashford, but we’ll look at him in the key player section.
Young is the next most likely to start out of the returnees. After Shaw’s impressive performance, it won’t be in his ‘favoured’ position of left back. Instead, he is likely to replace Matteo Darmian, who did nothing to show he should have been retained this summer instead of the youngster Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
Darmian actually made a game-high 5 tackles, 2 interceptions and 3 clearances. Those look like impressive stats until you see that the interceptions were close to the halfway line and two clearances were far outside the box. He also only mustered a pass completion of 77%, all together that shows a player who panics when on the ball. Young will start if he is available.
The final positions that may be up for grabs are in attack. Currently, the word seems to be that Lingard may still not be fully ready to start. Mata actually didn’t do too badly, registering a high pass completion and also managing 2 dribbles and 2 key passes, one of which led to Luke Shaw’s goal.
Mourinho seems to deem Alexis Sanchez undroppable so will likely keep him in the side. The Chilean won the penalty and made a whopping 4 key passes against Leicester. But yet again he gave the ball away a lot, being dispossessed twice and clocking in a meek 65% pass completion. That’s not good enough and if that carries on he’ll be looking over his shoulder.
Predicted XI: De Gea; Young, Lindelof, Bailly, Shaw; Fred, Pereira, Pogba; Mata, Lukaku, Sanchez
Last season, Manchester United lost this game 1-0 in one of their worst performances of that campaign. Brighton secured their survival with the win and seemed to attain victory by just trying harder. However, United were missing Romelu Lukaku in that game, who should be back for this fixture. He is undoubtedly their most potent striker, with 16 goals and 7 assists in the Premier League last season. That was 7 goals clear of his nearest competitor.
Brighton’s strength last season was in defence with Duffy and Dunk forming a formidable partnership at the back. The two of them didn’t make too many tackles and interceptions per game (neither managed two in either category), but they made a number of clearances a game, Dunk with 5.9 and Duffy with a league-high 8.8.
Clearly, United’s delivery is going to have to be such that Lukaku gets to the ball before they do. Balls into the air will be useless as they will be cleared away. But if the Belgian can get the ball at his feet he has a chance to find the spaces and get shots away on goal. His ability to find space in tight areas, coupled with the supply he should be getting from deeper will mean a goal from the Belgian is incredibly likely.
Last season, most of Brighton’s creativity stemmed from Pascal Gross, who turned out to be one of the signings of the season. He operates centrally, just behind the cumbersome Glenn Murray. Their two wide players, likely to be Knockaert, March or Jahanbakhsh all like to cut inside leading to an overload in central areas. This means United will have to do a lot of defending centrally, the brunt of it falling on the shoulders of Andreas Pereira and the two centre-backs, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof.
Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly performed admirably in the last game. They only made 1 interception each and 5 tackles between them, but Bailly made 6 clearances and Lindelof made a whopping 9. This would seem to suggest they just thump it clear, but they both notched up high pass completions, Lindelof with 89% and Bailly with 96%. That shows that they are picking and choosing when to pass and when to clear correctly. They should have enough to nullify the Brighton attack as well as keep possession for United to start attacks.
Andreas Pereira will be the first player they will look for. Now converted to a deep-lying playmaker, he is being asked to win the ball back and recycle possession while Matic is out injured. His performance against Leicester was exemplary. He had a pass completion of 91% and was never dispossessed, showing his ability to keep hold of the ball even when pressed. Defensively he was infallible, making 3 tackles and 5 interceptions to halt Leicester’s attacks. If he can repeat this level of performance, United should be fine.
Despite losing this game in a pathetic performance last season and not being too impressive in the previous game, Manchester United should record their second victory of the season. Brighton were really poor against Watford and are there for the taking if United can perform.
The Reds’ central midfield and defence looked solid in the first outing and they will have Lukaku back to sharpen the blunt attack from the first weekend. His support will be bolstered too, with Sanchez, Mata, Lingard, Rashford and Martial all possible options. Hopefully, that will help United create more chances which was the major problem in the first fixture.
If United can score early this could be a rout. However, as we saw last week they sometimes flatter to deceive. We are yet to see if the lack of tempo illustrated against Leicester is a managerial instruction or a sub-par performance. Like last week, it is likely that this will be a low scoring victory, but a victory nonetheless.