Jose Mourinho and his squad travelled to Brighton Friday evening looking to stay match sharp in anticipation of their FA Cup final just a few weeks away. The Seagulls hosted the Red Devils, knowing any positive result would confirm their Premier League status next season. Chris Hughton elected to go with his strongest side, hoping to make this occasion a special one. Manchester United, as expected, rotated heavily with a few fringe players getting a chance with the World Cup on the horizon.
Brighton – 4411 – Ryan, Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bong, Knockaert, Stephens, Propper, Izquierdo (March 88’), Gross (Kayal 84’), Murray (Ulloa 90’)
Manchester United – 433 – De Gea, Darmian (Shaw 68’), Smalling, Rojo (McTominay 76’), Young, Fellaini (Lingard 68’), Matic, Pogba, Mata, Rashford, Martial
There was an electric atmosphere in Brighton right from kickoff as their fans showed plenty of appreciation for their team’s season so far. Manchester United got off to a quick start, with a Fellaini goal ruled out for offside right from the get go. After a slight wake up call, Brighton began to find their footing; both comfortable in possession and direct in attack. Manchester United were disjointed and out of rhythm at best. Right away it looked as if they were there for the taking.
Brighton would get their first chance of the match after a neat pull back from Izquierdo found Gross at the top of the box, but his fierce effort went straight into De Gea’s hands. Just minutes later, after a Propper tackle, Murray picked up a loose ball and fired a brilliant half volley towards goal but De Gea was equal to the task with a super save. Rashford would soon be gifted a chance after a Dunk mistake but indecision between a cross and shot meant the chance was wasted. An accurate summation of the way Manchester United had played so far. They were nowhere close to matching the desire and urgency with which Brighton played and frankly sucked the life out of the match.
Chris Hughton would’ve been proud of the way his squad played but disappointed to not have the lead going into the second half.
As expected, Manchester United came out of the gates with some fire, testing Ryan almost immediately. The tide looked to be changing in the match after a strong opening ten minutes from the visitors, but Brighton would soon break the deadlock. Izquierdo found himself in yards of space, one on one with Darmian. After his deflected cross came back to him, Izquierdo ran to the byline and dinked a cross into the box. At his near post De Gea could only get a soft touch to it and Gross came flying in to head the ball across the line, despite a valiant effort from Rojo. Although it was against the run of play in the second half, Brighton had been the better team and got their deserved lead.
Brighton were now reinvigorated, continuing to knock on the door with their fans in full voice across the pitch. Despite their bright start, Manchester United fell out of sorts, clearly shell shocked after conceding. With about 20 minutes to go, the introduction of Lingard was Manchester United’s last hope as he provided the urgency and quality they’d been lacking for 70 minutes. Soon after the introduction, Rashford would get his best opportunity, forcing a sprawling save from Ryan from outside the area. Brighton were brilliant in defense throughout, organized in their shape and positioning and not allowing anything substantial within 20 yards.
As the match wore on, Manchester United became desperate, launching balls forward but lacking the necessary quality to produce anything. They would get one final chance as a one-two between Rashford and Lingard put the latter through on goal but a tackle from behind put Lingard off and his chance ended up well wide. Brighton were smart as they closed the game out, using all three of their subs in the final few minutes. From top to bottom they were by far the better team, with a full Manchester United eleven not able to match the desire of just one Seagull. With the final whistle, Manchester United completed their trio of away losses to newly promoted sides, with this performance at rock bottom.
MOTM: There were a few Brighton players deserving man of the match, with Gross Izquierdo, Ryan, Bruno and Duffy all honorable mentions. However, there was one man who epitomized Brighton’s performance on Friday night, Anthony Knockaert. He terrorized Young and Pogba down their left wing but didn’t neglect this defensive duties as he gave Bruno much needed protection. Rightly recognized by the fans as AMEX Stadium MOTM, Knockaert was lightning all over the field.
Written by Ammar Nazarali.
22. Currently living in the great state of Texas. Manchester United Team Correspondent for 90MAAT. #ILoveThisGame