Opposition in focus: Manchester United (H)

Brighton and Hove Albion will be looking to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing defeat at Watford when they host Manchester United at the Amex Stadium on Sunday. (kick-off 16:00)

Pascal Groß netted the winner when the two sides last met back in April – a fixture Seagulls fans will remember fondly as they guaranteed Premier League survival against Jose Mourinho’s men. Before that the pair had faced each other twice at Old Trafford – with both games ending in a United victory.

The Red Devils finished second in the Premier League last season but failed to win a single trophy. Pressure will now by on Mourinho and the team to lift some silverware, but they got off to the perfect start last week a Paul Pogba penalty and Luke Shaw’s first competitive goal saw off Leicester City 2-1 at Old Trafford.

Luke-Shaw-722567
Luke Shaw scored United’s second goal as they beat Leicester last weekend. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.dailystar.co.uk/sport/football/722567/Man-Utd-vs-Leicester-LIVE-Team-news-Premier-League-updates-Old-Trafford-Mourinho-Fred)

Manchester United fan and Stretty News contributor Jamie Spoor explains his thoughts on United’s lack of spending, Luke Shaw and the game against Brighton on Sunday.

Manchester United had a rather turbulent pre-season. In your opinion what were the reasons for that and who is to blame?

Our pre-season was a complete nightmare. Mourinho certainly didn’t help matters by his negative demeanour, frequent outbursts and criticism of the players, especially the younger ones. He was frustrated that the World Cup deprived United of several key men during the US Tour, but we knew that was always going to be the case and we only won one game. Although it was only pre-season, the results were disappointing – especially the defeats against Liverpool and Bayern Munich. Plodding around the US with a scratch side made up largely of reserves and fringe players, we learned little and it was far from ideal preparation ahead of the season.

Fred and Diogo Dalot were the only major signings that came through the Old Trafford doors this summer, with Mourinho obviously unhappy about the amount of targets missed. Does the lack of business during the transfer window worry you?

It is very concerning – particularly as Mourinho had devised a list of players he wanted to bring in to strengthen our squad. Top of that list was a top class centre-back alongside Eric Bailly as Smalling and Jones are simply not good enough. We were linked with Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire among others, but the window closed without us bringing in anyone apart from Dalot and Fred. I’m looking forward to seeing what both can do, but I didn’t feel they were players we necessarily needed. Overall, our transfer window inactivity was a shambles, the board have a lot to answer for and Mourinho has a right to be very frustrated by the lack of signings.

There is still a lot of speculation regarding the futures of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba. Are you confident either one of them or both will stay at the Club this summer?

I very much hope so. The transfer window for the rest of Europe is open for another couple of weeks, which means the club are unlikely to sell them both as we couldn’t get a replacement. Pogba in particular is a player we should look to build our team around, he is a player I believe has world class ability as we saw with France in the summer. Martial I’d be less unhappy about losing, he is an unbelievable talent but his attitude leaves a lot to be desired. The fact he has earned the nickname Le Sulk tells you everything you need to know. Mourinho wanted to let him go in the summer, but the board were unwilling to sell. Martial looked like a world beater when he first came, he was magnificent in that first season but has lost his way since and looks like a player that doesn’t want to be at United. It feels like his United career is at a crossroad at the minute.

One player that really impressed during United’s victory over Leicester last week was Luke Shaw. Do you see this as a golden opportunity for him to prove his right to be at the Club?

Absolutely. Luke Shaw should be starting at left-back for Manchester United week in, week out. He’s better than Ashley Young in every conceivable way, and his performance against Leicester was probably the biggest positive, apart from the result. It felt like it could be the start of a new beginning for him, a chance of redemption for a player whose United career has been one of unfulfilled promise so far. He’s had rotten luck with a loss of form, fitness and a number of injury problems, not to mention several public and acrimonious run-ins with Mourinho. He seemed certain to leave in the summer, and the one before that, but has worked hard to turn his fortunes around and get back in the manager’s good books. He’s got a long way to go before we can say he’s finally lived up to his burgeoning potential and makes the left-back spot his own, having shown only glimpses of the form that persuaded United to sign him from Southampton in 2014, where he was regarded as the finest young full-back in the country.

Who poses the biggest threat to Brighton’s defence on Sunday?

Romelu Lukaku looks set to play in this game, and on his day he is unplayable. He scored 27 goals last season, which would have been 30 if not for injury. After a good World Cup with Belgium, hopefully he’ll hit the ground running and come back fit and firing. Marcus Rashford is always a handful with his pace, and we all know about the world class talent of Alexis Sanchez, although he’s yet to show it in the red of United. The battle between our front three, and Brighton’s centre half partnership of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy – who were really impressive last season – could well hold the key.

Brighton could give home debuts to Martin Montoya, Yves Bissouma and
Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Do you feel that it will be one of the new signings that causes United the most problems on the pitch?

To be honest, I don’t really know too much about any of Brighton’s new summer signings, they are something of an unknown quantity. For Albion to sign a Champions League winner in Martin Montoya is a real coup, and shows the ambition and upward mobility of the club. He is the only one I’ve heard of and could be a tough nut to crack.

When we came down to the Amex last time, it was Anthony Knockaert who ran the show – he terrorised our defence and is a player who I’ve always been a big fan of. Although he is mercurial and unpredictable, for me he is still Brighton’s go-to match winner. His pace and directness causes problems, and hopefully Matteo Darmian will be able to deal with him better this time around. With their new strikers now on board, it will be interesting to see who Chris Hughton calls upon to lead the line.

The Seagulls began the season with a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Watford. Chris Hughton will be expecting a response from his players, so are you nervous about playing Brighton this weekend? A team who may also be buoyed from last season’s victory over United at the Amex?

Any away game in the Premier League is a difficult one, no matter who you are. Brighton were very strong at the Amex last season – I think they only lost three times – which is very impressive for a newly promoted side. Hughton is an under-rated manager, he will send Brighton out to get in our faces, not be cowed and to play without fear. They are well-drilled, well organised and work hard. They have pace in their team and are going to be hard to get through. The atmosphere will be feverish, Brighton won’t show us any respect at all, and it certainly won’t be an easy game. It was a poor result for them at Watford, but what better way for them to respond from that with a home result over the mighty Manchester United to get them off and running for the season. I think it will be a different type of game from the one we saw last time, Albion will be scenting another big name scalp and I expect a very tough test of United’s credentials.

How do you see Brighton and Hove Albion doing this season?

The second season in the Premier League is always much harder than the first for a new team, and I think that could be the case for Brighton this time. Goals proved hard to come by last season and Albion were the third lowest scorers in the league, even though they survived in relative comfort in 15th place. Hughton has attempted to rectify that by bringing in the aforementioned Jahanbakhsh and Florin Andone to bolster striking options, but it remains to be seen how the new arrivals will fare. I do have a soft spot for Brighton and I like Chris Hughton, but I think they could get found out a bit and will struggle. I’d loved to proved wrong, but I think there could be a relegation battle to contend with.

Many are suggesting that it is imperative that Manchester United win a trophy this season. What do you think will be classed as a successful campaign for Jose Mourinho’s side?

Any season without silverware of some sort has to be considered unacceptable when you’re Manchester United. Last season was a marked improvement in the league, we finished second on 81 points in our best league placing since Sir Alex retired. But we lost the FA Cup Final, so had nothing to show for it. We’re certainly not good enough to win the Premier League or the Champions League, but we’re no better and no worse than last season so I think we’re comfortably going to finish in the top four. I think our best chance of a trophy will come in the FA Cup – where we’ll look to go one better that last season – or the Carabao Cup, which Mourinho has always had a lot of success in. I would be more than happy with a top 3 league finish and a cup win, I think that’s realistic and a good season.

What do you think the score will be on Sunday?

United are very hard to predict – we can be brilliant one week, bang average the next. The Amex is a difficult trip and Brighton cannot be ruled out. Under Mourinho, we’ve struggled at times against the so called ‘lesser’ sides, so this is tough to call. I’m fond of Brighton and wish them luck for the season (after Sunday of course), so I’m going to sit on the fence and go down the middle. I actually think the Albion will nick something from this, so I’m going for the safe option of a draw. 1-1.

*** You can read Jamie’s articles on Manchester United here:  https://strettynews.com/author/jamie-spoor/.

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