Can Manchester United continue their fine late-season run against a Brighton side still in need of points? Join Simon Burnton
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22 mins: Fernandes shoots, and gets the ball to dip savagely, but it never threatens to dip enough to get under the bar.
21 mins: Now they have a free-kick in a very handy position, as Pogba is fouled just outside the area.
20 mins: This is all looking excellent for the visitors. They are attacking at pace, in numbers, with width on both flanks, and Brighton can’t plug every gap.
The chance comes, the shot follows, and United lead! Greenwood pretty much makes it for himself, running infield from the right, leaving Stephens in his wake, bursting into the box, squaring up Dunk, jinking this way and that, and then shooting low and hard inside the near post!
15 mins: United are running at about 74% possession, and looking menacing with it, but so far no clear chances, or shots of any note from inside the area.
12 mins: Bruno Fernandes hits the post! Maguire’s long ball from left to right starts the move, Pogba’s pass infield finds the Portuguese, and his early, low shot from just outside the area thumps the near post.
11 mins: A few seconds later Mac Allister tries it again, and this time Connolly is on the move, but he uses an arm to control and that’s the end of that.
11 mins: Mac Allister picks the ball up in midfield and plays it through for Connolly, who hadn’t got the memo and was entirely flat-footed.
8 mins: United are hogging the ball, but not doing so much attacking. Bruno Fernandes nearly unlocked the home defence a couple of minutes back, but his Ryan ran out to booter his through-ball into touch as Rashford raced towards it.
5 mins: A breather for Brighton, as Maguire chests a long pass towards Lindelof, and Connolly nips in and goes down, winning a bonus cheap free kick.
3 mins: United have already put together two decent attacks down the left, but on both occasions the attack was snuffled out after they got into the box.
2 mins: Kick-off is preceded by a noisy countdown, on the stadium’s big screens and loud speakers. 10 … 9 … 8 … 7 … it goes. 6 … 5 … 4 … 3 … it continues. 2 … 1, it concludes. And then, 10 further seconds of awkward silence while the referee completes his last-minute whatevers, noisy countdown completely ignored. The players take the knee for a few seconds after kick-off.
1 min: Peeeeeep! United get the game started.
The players are out, and the coin has just been tossed. Action imminent.
The players are making their way into the tunnel, with kick-off just a few minutes away.
“While I’m cheered that the fans are practising some social distancing by sitting one seat apart, I’m appalled they’re not wearing masks,” complains Eric Schwab of Brighton’s Thank You NHS Stand (photo below). “This seems like a very narrow, two-dimensional approach.”
Graham Potter submits himself to the Sky-flavoured inquisition:
I think we’ve had a positive couple of games, but we have to start again. We play against a really good side, a side in good form, so all that we’ve done is gone and we have to start again tonight and do our best. It’s a chance to win three points, that’s how we look at it. They’re a good team, and they’re fighting for the Champions League, but ti’s a chance to win three points and that’s what we have to focus on. I’ve reminded them that they’re good players, they need to work hard to get a result. History’s fine but it doesn’t count for anything tonight. We need a bit of luck against this quality of opposition, but we need to make sure we do our best.
He says the decision to play Aaron Connolly instead of Neal Maupay is “purely tactical”, because he hopes the Irishman’s pace could come in handy. “I think Neal can help us off the bench. We’ve got a big squad, everybody’s ready to help and we’ll need that going forward.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a chat with Sky:
This is the same team as played less than a week ago against Sheffield United and played really well, so hopefully we can see that again. Everything has to be right. We’ve been here the last two years, we haven’t got any points. We know it’s going to be hard, we know we have to focus on one game at a time.
Brighton make three changes to the team that drew 0-0 at Leicester last Tuesday, bringing in Shane Duffy, Davy Propper and Martin Montoya. Manchester United make either no changes or eight of them, depending on whether you count the FA Cup game against Norwich or the last league game, against Sheffield United last Wednesday.
The team sheets are in, and these are the names upon them:
Brighton: Ryan, Duffy, Dunk, Burn, Lamptey, Propper, Stephens, Bissouma, Montoya, Mac Allister, Connolly. Subs: Maupay, Trossard, Gross, Murray, Mooy, March, Schelotto, Button, Bernardo.
Man Utd: De Gea, Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, Pogba, Matic, Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford, Martial. Subs: Bailly, Mata, Andreas Pereira, Fred, James, Romero, Ighalo, McTominay, Williams.
Referee: Andre Marriner.
Before the restart I thought Brighton, winless in 2020 and with a pretty nasty fixture list, might end up in a hideous battle against relegation. Two games, two decent performances and four points later and given the miserable form of Bournemouth, West Ham, Aston Villa and Watford below them I make them a win away from safety. They are more likely to get that victory at Norwich on Saturday than against Manchester United tonight, with the visitors another side that has had a decent restart and motivated by the vicious scrap for European qualification in which they find themselves, but I wouldn’t put it past them. They are, after all, unbeaten at home against Manchester United since April 1982 (with four wins and a draw since then).
In memory of which, here’s the track that was No3 in that week’s hit parade and indeed also the next, when it held off This Time (We’ll Get it Right) by the England World Cup squad – to my mind perhaps the great classic squad-actually-singing, no-fancy-pants-pop-stars football record – which rose to No4.