Will the Reds Like to be Beside the Seaside?
Manchester United play their penultimate away game of the season tonight as they make the long trip south to face Brighton at the Amex Arena, in what should be an entertaining fixture. This is Brighton’s final home game of the season, and I would imagine there will be a ‘full house’ for United’s visit.
The Red Devils come into the game on the back of a somewhat fortunate 2-1 victory over Arsenal last Sunday. That game almost seemed like a ‘testimonial’ for long-serving Gunners boss Arsene Wenger (given a very warm final welcome to Old Trafford by the United fans), such was the largely pedestrian tempo of the home team in particular. Having taken an early lead through French midfield maestro Paul Pogba (on hand to direct a rebounded Alexis Sanchez header back into the gaping Arsenal net), United laboured to maintain any sense of urgency in their play against a youthful Gunners side.
They were duly punished for their prolificacy when former United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan equalised with a clever shot from the edge of the area five minutes into the second half. To his credit, the Armenian lad didn’t celebrate in front of the United faithful, who had given him a returning hero’s welcome earlier in the day.
Thereafter the hosts continued to struggle to put away their largely inexperienced opposition, only saved from dropping points by a glancing header into the top corner of the Stretford End net by substitute Marouane Fellaini from an Ashley Young cross two minutes into injury time. It was a welcome piece of opportunism from the Belgian, who has yet to agree new terms with United, and had seemed destined for ‘pastures new’ in the summer. However, Jose Mourinho’s post-match comments would suggest that a deal for the lanky midfielder may yet materialise, though I’m not quite sure how I feel about having the unorthodox former Everton man at the Club for another few years….
Chris Hughton’s men have had a chequered season but should probably have enough points now to be safe from relegation back to the Championship in two weeks’ time, and that’s to be welcomed. Brighton are a well-run club who like to play decent football, and in Hughton have a manager whom it is easy to like: an honest, modest lad who knows how to get the best from the players at his disposal. They also have a couple of very decent players, none-more-so than goalkeeper Matt Ryan, who has performed very well for them in the Premier League.
With that in mind, here is my team selection for this game: (fluid 4-3-3)
GK: David de Gea – David unsurprisingly picked up yet another United “Player of the Year” award on Tuesday evening after a season during which he has again underlined his status as the best goalkeeper in the world. As always, I would expect the Brighton lads to find him to be a very difficult ‘obstacle’ to overcome.
RB: Antonio Valencia – Tony has been no better than average this year, solid defensively but hampered by some poor decision-making and wasteful crossing when in good attacking positions; this was again the case in the recent Arsenal game, and this may be a position which the manager considers bringing some competition in for over the summer. Tim Fosu-Mensah will also be returning from his loan spell at Crystal Palace to increase the pressure on Valencia to ‘up his game’.
LB: Ashley Young – Young, like Valencia, was largely solid without being imaginative in the attacking third, at least until virtually the last kick of the game! Again, his position is one that I would expect the manager to be looking to bring competition in for over the summer, particularly since he clearly does not fancy Luke Shaw.
CBs: Eric Bailly & Victor Lindelöf – Victor put in a very assured performance against Arsenal, keeping Aubameyang quiet throughout. He will relish the physical battle that the likes of Glenn Murray will offer tonight. Alongside him, I’d be wanting to get Bailly involved; he has had precious little action in the last few weeks and needs some competitive game-time to be ready for the F.A. Cup Final in 15 days’ time.
MFs: Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera & Paul Pogba – Matic had yet another sublime performance against Arsenal, in a season during which he has more than justified the money United paid Chelsea for his services last summer- the man is a “Rolls Royce” of a player! Herrera, after struggling for form and fitness for most of this year, has looked close to being back to the marvellous midfield dynamo we witnessed last season- long may it continue. Paul Pogba remains our best technical footballer, a man with the ability to control the tempo of a football match at the top level…but we need to see that ability much more often than has been the case this season. That said, I still wouldn’t swap him for any other midfielder in the Premier League; I have faith that the boy will ‘come good’ on a more consistent basis next term.
AMs: Jesse Lingard (RM) & Alexis Sanchez (LM) – Jesse has had a very good season, during which he has established himself as a 1st team regular at United. He also has a very good chance of being named a starter in England boss Gareth Southgate’s first Group game team selection at this summer’s World Cup tournament. His selfless running and willingness to track back are invaluable to the team effort. Alexis, after a slow start, has looked much more like the marauding “mini-warrior” we were used to seeing making things happen for Arsenal. With no World Cup this summer for Chile, Alexis will undoubtedly be even stronger for us next year after a few months’ vacation.
CF: Marcus Rashford – The injury sustained by Romelu Lukaku early in the second half last Sunday will reportedly keep the big Belgian hitman sidelined until at least our final Premier League fixture at home to Watford, and possibly even right up to the F.A. Cup Final on 19th May. In the meantime, Marcus should be given the opportunity to show what he can do leading the line, an opportunity which I’d imagine he will relish! His pace and trickery on the ball is something completely different to Lukaku’s sheer power and physical presence, and it will be interesting to see how he fares in what is surely his favoured position. Tony Martial is also a possible option but I’d put my trust in Marcus until Romelu returns.
BENCH: Joel Pereira, Smalling, Martial, McTominay, Mata, Fellaini, Gomes.
With Champions League football for next season secured (since United now cannot finish any lower than 4th position in the Premier League after our 2-1 victory over Arsenal last Sunday), this is the first of three great opportunities for the Red Devils to seal runners-up position. Brighton are a decent side, and I’m sure the Seagulls fans will get right behind their team at the Amex Arena, but we really should have more than enough quality in our squad to emerge victorious.
The only slight concern is that Chris Hughton’s men have been handed a shocking pair of final fixtures! They must travel to both Manchester City and then Liverpool for their last two games, so they know this game is realistically their last chance to add to their points tally. With that in mind, United need to guard against the lazy complacent attitude which made Sunday’s game with Arsenal resemble a testimonial for the departing Arsene Wenger for long periods. This game should be regarded by many of our players as a chance to impress the manager ahead of the F.A. Cup Final, and I expect him to have mentioned that to them beforehand…
I hope the Seagulls stay up; they are a credit to their manager and deserve to remain a Premier League club. However, come Friday evening United must ruthlessly put them to the sword and in so doing take a huge step to securing the runners-up position behind our noisy neighbours. C’mon Reds!!