2018-19 EPL Match Day 23 Preview — Manchester United (12-5-5) vs. Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-10)

If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keeps this up, Manchester United will have a very short coaching search since they won’t need to look outside Old Trafford.

The caretaker manager looks for his seventh win in as many matches since taking charge as United host Brighton and Hove Albion on the road Saturday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

United’s first five matches with their former Norwegian striker in charge were a means of stabilising the storied franchise following the sacking of Jose Mourinho. The Red Devils took care of business with four league wins on the trot followed by an efficient FA Cup victory over Reading.

Last weekend’s match at Wembley versus Tottenham Hotspur was the first real referendum on Solskjaer’s coaching acumen, his counterpart Mauricio Pochettino also considered a potential suitor for the United job Solskjaer has openly stated he wants on a full-time basis.

And the Norwegian passed with flying colours as United (12-5-5) recorded a 1-0 victory over Spurs, moving within six points of the fourth and final Champions League spot while pulling level on points with Arsenal for fifth. Solskjaer opted to match Pochettino’s diamond in midfield with one of his own, using Jesse Lingard as a false nine to open up space behind Tottenham’s defence, which contributed to Marcus Rashford’s goal on 44 minutes.

“The manager told us that at the beginning of the game it would be difficult to make short passes,” midfielder Ander Herrera told United’s official website. “He told us that it would be easier for us to switch the play and to look – almost without looking – to the other side of the pitch to switch the ball, because that is where we were going to find spaces.

“We scored like that, so thank you to the game plan as well.”

In the second 45 minutes, the match belonged to David De Gea, who again rescued points for United with a standout performance. He finished with 11 saves, thwarting Spurs striker Harry Kane thrice and Dele Alli twice.

“Every one of them (my saves) was important for the team to help keep a clean sheet, to help the team to win so every save was important,” De Gea said. It was a tough game for every player, we were attacking well, we create chances and this is United.

“They (Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones) have been top too, but not just them, the whole team, we have to defend from the striker to the goalkeeper so it was a great performance in the defensive way and we need to keep this level, keep winning games and fight for the top four.”

Solskjaer became the first United manager to win his first six games in charge, bettering the mark established by Sir Matt Busby in the 1946-47 season. Once more he found the best in Pogba, whose 45-yard pass set up Rashford for his match-winner.

The World Cup winner has four goals and four assists since Solskjaer took over while Rashford has three goals in his last four matches and four since the managerial change.

Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-10) have a chance to complete their first double over Manchester United at any level since they recorded a 3-2 victory in the reverse fixture in August on first-half goals by Glenn Murray, Shane Duffy and Pascal Gross.

While United’s outlook has changed since the match. The Seagulls continue to be a stubborn outfit under Chris Hughton and had their four-match unbeaten run in all competitions end with a tough 1-0 loss at home to Liverpool last weekend.

Gross committed the foul on Mohamed Salah that led to the match’s only goal on 50 minutes, a bitter result for a Brighton side that played well and compact despite ceding nearly 70 percent position to the Premier League leaders. The effort has also provided hope among Albion they can grab a result at the Theatre of Dreams.

“Liverpool and Manchester United are the matches which are special in the Premier League, and you have important matches against top teams all the time,” defender Martin Montoya told the club’s official website. “I can see the team is growing since the start of the season, as we look more solid, physically stronger, and better individually.

“We are improving and at Manchester we will go out giving it our all to get a result.”

Brighton will also be sporting a different look compared to the first meeting, with Hughton using a 4-3-3 that will look more like a 4-5-1 formation with the expectation United will see a lion’s share of the possession. The move has most benefitted Jurgen Locadia, who had two goals and an assist in the four matches before the setback to Liverpool.

Also different will be the goalkeeper as David Button continues between the sticks while first-choice keeper Mathew Ryan plays for Australia in the Asian Cup. Button has helped Albion claim four points in his three league starts and recorded a clean sheet versus Everton.

In 10 trips to Old Trafford spanning 110 years, the Seagulls have just two draws to their credit – a 2-2 draw in the 1981 FA Cup and a 1-1 deadlock in the First Division in the 1982-83 season.

Manchester United have recorded four consecutive clean sheets at home versus Albion since that draw, with the lone league contest a 1-0 victory last term on an own goal by Seagulls defender Lewis Dunk. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic provided the offence in the most recent contest there in the FA Cup quarterfinals last March.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Manchester United are firm 3/10 favourites to make it seven wins on the spin since Solskjaer took over, and Brighton are 11/1 underdogs to pull off the double. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 19/4.

Despite a five-goal outburst in the first meeting, oddsmakers aren’t overly convinced this will be a high-scoring affair, offering 8/11 action on over 2.5 goals compared to 11/10 for under. There are also 4/6 odds on at least one clean sheet compared to 11/10 that both teams will score.

Despite the likelihood he will be coming off the bench once more, Lukaku is still the top choice for first goal-scorers at 11/4. He is followed by Anthony Martial (4/1), Alexis Sanchez (9/2), and the in-form duo of Pogba and Rashford — who are both 5/1. Lingard is a 13/2 option, while Murray is the top pick for Brighton at 10/1 to make it 0-1.

Lukaku is the only player with better than even money odds to score over the course of 90 minutes at 8/11, with Martial just off that line at 11/10. Sanchez is a 5/4 pick while Pogba and Rashford are again linked together at 7/5. Juan Mata has 12/5 odds to pick up a goal, while Murray is a 3/1 option. Seagulls teammate Florian Andone checks in at 9/2, and Locadia is another step back at 5/1.

PREDICTION

Solskjaer has passed every test thrown at him through these first six matches with flying colours, and this contest presents a new one: can United avoid a letdown after a big result? Additionally, this has the feel of a “trap game” considering their next contest is a mouth-watering fourth-round FA Cup tie at the Emirates versus Arsenal that will undoubtedly turn into a “who’s doing better among new managers” debate for the run-up.

Still, United continue to make up ground in a push for a top-four spot, and a win here ahead of that contest with Arsenal — United trail the Gunners by just two in goal difference — would send a message to the north London side they are not going away any time soon.

Right now, Pogba and Rashford are carrying United’s offence, but the other key component of United’s success is continuity. Solskjaer has settled on a first XI and substitution patterns that promote consistency in the side, and he has been rewarded by both starters and reserves — evidenced by their win at Newcastle.

Albion are not far off from the top half of the table, and for a side who have taken just four points off the Big Six, they have proven difficult to break down. Four of their five losses against those teams have come by one loss, and the worst of them was a 2-0 setback to Manchester City. Hughton’s squad may lack a consistent offence — but they are well-drilled and disciplined.

With the likelihood Albion will have nine behind the ball for this match as their 4-3-3 retreats into a 4-5-1, it means the dirty work will fall to fullbacks Luke Shaw and Ashley Young to pump crosses into the box to create some chaos and get a greasy goal for some separation.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester United 2, Brighton and Hove Albion 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 23 PREVIEWS:

Wolverhampton (8-5-9) vs. Leicester City (9-4-9)
Liverpool (18-3-1) vs. Crystal Palace (6-4-12)
Southampton (4-7-11) vs. Everton (8-6-8)
Arsenal (12-5-5) vs. Chelsea (14-5-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 Preview — Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)

2019 has gotten off to a rotten start for Liverpool.

Denied in a bid to run away with the Premier League race and sent tumbling out of the FA Cup, Jurgen Klopp’s side look to stop the rot Saturday with a tricky tie at the AMEX against a Brighton and Hove Albion side playing some of their best football of the season.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Liverpool (17-3-1) were thwarted in their chance to open a 10-point chasm on the reigning titleholders as they fell 2-1 at Manchester City on Jan. 3. The Reds were unfortunate not to go up a man just after the half-hour when Vincent Kompany was only booked for a harsh challenge on Mohamed Salah, but they were also chasing the match for most of the 90 minutes.

Roberto Firmino gave Liverpool hope for a point with an equaliser on 64 minutes to cancel out Sergio Aguero’s first-half goal, but Leroy Sane scored eight minutes later for the hosts, who clawed within four points of the top spot and overtook Tottenham Hotspur – another two points further adrift – for third.

The intensity of that clash led Klopp to overturning all but two of his starting XI for Monday’s third-round FA Cup tie at Wolverhampton. An omen of things to come came in the sixth minute when centre back Dejan Lovren – a position Liverpool are already thin at – was forced off with a hamstring injury on six minutes.

The teams traded goals around halftime, but Ruben Neves’ long-range strike on 55 minutes proved decisive in a 2-1 defeat to the promoted side, leaving Liverpool with “just” the Premier League and Champions League trophies to play for between now and June.

“We have to make sure we bounce back and look at where we can get better,” midfielder James Milner told the club’s official website. “You’re never going to go a full season without having blips. I think at the start of this season we weren’t playing our best but we were getting results. (It’s) back-to-back defeats now, which really isn’t good enough for us, but you have blips in a season. It’s about how you respond.

“I think you’ve seen the character in the squad in the last few years, and the players we have, to know we will bounce back. We have to show that, though. It’s easy saying it in an interview, we have to do it on the pitch at the weekend.”

How Klopp fills Lovren’s absence at centre back will be something to watch. The Croatia international was behind Joe Gomez on the pecking order of centre back partners with Virgil Van Dijk, who himself is questionable for this match due to an illness.

Gomez is out injured, and while the FA Cup was an opportune moment to blood 16-year-old Ki-Jana Hoever as an understudy there, the teen is not expected to be on a league team sheet any time soon. The most likely option for Klopp is to drop defensive midfielder Fabinho into a pairing with Van Dijk should he be available.

Whether this is indeed a “blip” as Milner says or something larger could rest on Liverpool’s attacking trio of Firmino, Salah and Sadio Mane. Firmino finally found his form with his hat trick versus Arsenal and followed that up with a well-done finish versus City.

Salah and Mane both scored against the Gunners, so they are not slumping, but whether the trio can re-ignite at last term’s pace to take the pressure off Van Dijk and the back line remains to be seen.

Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) have quietly put themselves in solid mid-table footing and are 13th on 26 points, 10 clear of the drop. The Seagulls are 2-2-0 in their last four matches in all competitions and avenged their most recent defeat Saturday with a 3-1 win at Bournemouth in a third-round FA Cup tie.

Anthony Knockaert’s first goal in 12 matches swung that match in Brighton’s favour minutes after Bournemouth should have taken the lead through Lys Mousset. Yves Bissouma added his first goal of the term three minutes after Knockaert struck, and Florian Andone completed Brighton’s first three-goal effort since early December with a header on a corner just after the hour.

“I’d certainly rather be going into the game in good form than in bad form,” manager Chris Hughton told the club’s official website. “At the moment, playing at home to Man City or Liverpool are the toughest games you can play. They will be big favourites, as everybody would imagine, and it will be us doing as well as we can on the day.

“In this game, people won’t expect us to get anything and anything we do get will be a bonus.”

Hughton was not exempt from injury woes for this match as left back Bernardo has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Winger Jose Izquerido is also sidelined with a knee injury while attacking winger Ali Jahanbakhsh and first-choice keeper Mat Ryan are  representing Iran and Australia, respectively, at the Asian Cup.

The Seagulls showed plenty of fight in the reverse fixture, falling 1-0 at Anfield where Salah slotted home on 23 minutes. Brighton nearly nicked a point late, but Pascal Gross’ 88th-minute header was stopped by Alisson.

Liverpool have won all three top-flight matches since Brighton won promotion last season and rolled to a 5-1 victory at the Amex in 2017-18 behind a brace from Firmino.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are solid 3/10 favourites to get back on track in league play and pick up a victory. There are 5/1 odds on a draw, and Brighton are 10/1 underdogs to pull off a shock scoreline with a second-choice keeper and extend Liverpool’s recent misery.

There are 8/11 odds on the teams combining for more than 2.5 goals while there are 11/10 odds on the teams being under that threshold for the second time this season. Oddsmakers are also expecting another clean sheet in Liverpool’s favour, with 8/13 odds on one team being held off the scoreboard compared to 6/5 odds both teams will get a goal.

Salah leads the line for first-goal scorers at 11/4, heading a list of nine Liverpool players before finding the first Brighton option in Glenn Murray at 10/1. Firmino and Mane are both 9/2 picks to make a 0-1 scoreline, trailing Reds reserve strikers Daniel Sturridge (3/1) and Divock Origi (4/1). Shaqiri lurks as an 11/2 option to open the scoring.

For 90-minute goal-scorers, Salah (8/11) and Sturridge (5/6) are both better than even money to bag a goal, with Firmino offering 13/10 odds along with Mane. Shaqiri is a 13/8 pick, and even Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana at 3/1 rates above Murray (10/3) in terms of scoring during the match.

PREDICTION

This match would have been far more intriguing had first-choice Brighton keeper Mat Ryan not left for the Asian Cup to represent the Socceroos. The Seagulls have proven a tough out at home against the Big Six, knocking off Manchester United and drawing Arsenal. They also have a victory over Everton at home and will certainly be no pushovers as they sit back, try to absorb pressure, and hit on the counter.

But this match is about Liverpool. They have answered a challenge before in needing a result to advance in the Champions League, but they also had the luxury of playing that crunch match at home. This is a third consecutive match on the road for the Reds, essentially trying out a defensive midfielder in the centre back position in Fabinho, and Van Dijk may not be 100 percent due to illness.

The good news for Liverpool is Firmino is in form, and Salah has been in form for an extended period of time. This is one of those matches where a moment of magic on set-ball pieces from Shaqiri is what Klopp’s side need to make a difference in this contest. Brighton rarely beat themselves, though Trent Alexander-Arnold could alsomake a huge impact on the right as he takes on Bernardo’s expected replacement Gaetan Bong.

This one may not be settled till the final half-hour, but this is where the championship mettle of Liverpool delivers a needed result.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Brighton and Hove Albion 0, Liverpool 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 22 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)
Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)
Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)
Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)