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)

 

 

2018-19 EPL Team-by-Team Previews: Brighton and Hove Albion (July 23)

(Writer’s Note: This is the sixth of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on Aug. 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page)

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION SEAGULLS

Manager: Chris Hughton (Hire Date: Dec. 31, 2014)
Tenure Length: 4th/20 in Premier League and 10th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 9-13-16, 40 points, 15th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 34
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-20
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 2 (includes 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2017
Last Relegation: 
2006 (Championship to League One)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Third-round loss (Bournemouth)
2017-18 FA Cup: Quarterfinal loss (Manchester United)

2017/18 REVIEW

Brighton and Hove Albion struggled adjusting to life in the top flight after a 34-year absence, not scoring their first Premier League goal in club history until Pascal Gross netted right before halftime in its fourth match.

Like most promoted teams, goals were hard to come by in league play as the Seagulls had six different stretches they were held off the scoresheet in back-to-back contests or longer. Yet there were also pockets of strong play — Brighton had a five-match unbeaten run that included back-to-back wins at West Ham United and Swansea City and a stretch in which it claimed points in seven of nine matches (3-4-2), highlighted by a 2-1 victory over Arsenal. During that second run, the Seagulls also made their run to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.

But the biggest victory in 21 years for Brighton came in the form of its 1-0 victory over Manchester United on matchday 36, a result that took the Seagulls to the unassailable 40-point mark for securing safety and allowed them to exhale in what was a murderers’ row of finishing matches that concluded with losses at champion Manchester City and Liverpool.

Veteran striker Glenn Murray, who had been with Brighton during its League One days and was a vital part of its promotion to the Premier League, led the way with 14 goals in all competitions while Gross finished with seven and was the only player to pot more than five.

Australia international Mathew Ryan had 10 clean sheets in all competitions but also was victimised by his defense at times as Brighton conceded five own goals.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

 

 

Brighton and Hove Albion Lineup

It is possible Hughton could open the season with an identical starting XI to the one that beat Manchester United in May that secured a second season in the top flight. Brighton, however, was active in the summer transfer market with seven signings. Of that group, the two most likely to vie for spots in the first 11 are central midfielder Yves Bissouma, who secured a move from Lille with a £15 million price tag, and forward Florin Andone, who scored 19 goals with Deportivo La Coruna the past two seasons and was a relative bargain at just over £5 million since the Spanish side was relegated from La Liga.

The other notable signings include veteran defender and Nigeria international Leon Balogun and Bernando, who will push for a spot at either wide back after arriving from RB Leipzig with a £9 million price tag. There is hope Brighton’s record £16 million signing from last season, Jurgen Locadia, will deliver something more after appearing in just six league matches and scoring one goal last term.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

Bissouma and Bernardo are the two brightest prospects, with Bernardo’s ability to play either wide position or even in midfield providing Hughton a needed versatility. While Bissouma had only three goals in 47 appearances for Lille in the last two seasons, he has scored an equal amount of goals in just 15 international appearances for Mali.

Andone replaces departed veteran striker Leonardo Ulloa, who was loaned in for half a season from Leicester City last term, and gives Hughton a like-for-like pairing with Murray as the most forward striker.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Pascal Gross (F)

Gross logged nearly 3,000 minutes last season and was seemingly everywhere in the final third when it mattered for Brighton and Hove Albion. In addition to his seven goals, he had a team-high eight assists and pumped in a team-leading 254 crosses. The 27-year-old signed a four-year extension last month that keeps him in Brighton until 2022 and likely will be the face of the team when Murray decides to hang up his scoring boots.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Brighton is the fifth-most likely team to be relegated, with the current odds listed at 2/1. The Seagulls are joint-third with Watford and Fulham for a bottom-half finish at 1/10, and joint-11th with the Cottagers on a top-10 finish at 5/1. For the dreamers with a pound to burn, Brighton is getting 40/1 odds on a top-six finish, 150/1 odds to claim a top-four spot and 1,000/1 to lift the Premier League trophy.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 11 — Watford (14th) A
Aug. 19 — Manchester United (2nd) H
Aug. 25 — Liverpool (4th) A
Sept. 1 — Fulham (N/A) H
————-
April 20 — Wolverhampton (N/A) A
April 27 — Newcastle United (10th) H
May 4 — Arsenal (6th) A
May 12 — Manchester City (1st) H

OUTLOOK

Hughton’s success with Brighton and Hove Albion proved vindication for a man, who it can be argued, was unjustly sacked from Newcastle United earlier this decade and got somewhat of a raw deal at Norwich City before taking on the Seagulls’ job in 2014. Whatever failures he may have endured in his previous two Premier League stints, he definitely took the proper lessons from them in making sure Brighton was not a one-year wonder after missing out on top-flight football for almost two generations.

“We started the season a bit, I won’t say scared, but we were a bit like, ‘What is the level?’ We didn’t know how to win games. And then the first home win against West Brom made a difference. We knew we were capable of winning games and that we had the quality to do it,” midfielder Anthony Knockaert told The Times following the win over Manchester United.

While the Seagulls are now a year older and a year wiser, the question of are they a year better is a tricky one to answer. Brighton was good enough last season to reach 40 points, but the swap of relegated teams Stoke City, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion with forward-moving and deep-pocketed promoted sides Wolverhampton and Fulham — less so in the case of Cardiff City — means Brighton must bag more than 34 goals if survival is to be achieved.

While Gross is a do-everything performer and Murray’s veteran nous is a huge plus up front, Jose Izquerido may be the swing vote who decides Brighton’s fate. The 26-year-old Colombia international gained some important experience in Russia at the World Cup, and he was one of Brighton’s top players down the stretch. He needs to be that type of player the full season.

Brighton’s fate will go right down to the wire in terms of surviving. Its closing slate of matches provides no favours unless Manchester City has already sewn up a second consecutive Premier League title before the final matchday. It sounds harsh, but the top of the drop still means Brighton will be dropped.

PREDICTED FINISH

18th place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                          August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City