Next up for Manchester United is a Sunday matinee on the south coast against Brighton & Hove Albion. The Reds hope to make it two wins from two in this young season, after shrugging off a difficult summer to defeat Leicester City 2-1 in last Friday’s opener. It might not have been pretty — and United certainly rode their luck at times — but a win is a win.
Now, with another week of training in the books, José Mourinho should be able to continue re-integrating his World Cup returnees into the squad. While Paul Pogba jumped right back into the starting eleven (and wore the captain’s armband to boot), others like Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young needed more time.
It will be interesting to see whether Pogba retains the captaincy for Sunday’s trip to Brighton. After a summer of rumored discontent, Mourinho extended an olive branch to his record signing by starting him in his preferred role in a midfield three and giving him the armband. On the pitch, Pogba responded well with a man of the match performance.
Off it, though, he made clear his continuing displeasure. Without naming any names, Pogba hinted at major trust issues between himself and the manager, further fanning the flames that he might be seeking another exit from the club. In any case, those post-match comments won’t have done him any favors in Mourinho’s books.
But, if anyone else takes the armband on Sunday, it won’t be Antonio Valencia. The club hasn’t yet shared the full extent of his calf injury, but it will keep him out of the Brighton match. Matteo Darmian probably continues on the right in Valencia’s place, while Luke Shaw certainly earned another start after his goal-scoring effort in the opener.
In midfield, Nemanja Matić’s long-term absence will give young Andreas Pereira a chance to stake his claim as the first-choice #6. Mostly known for his attacking prowess, the 22-year-old Brazilian has looked a natural in this new role. Fred, too, impressed in his Old Trafford debut and, with Pogba, provided a glimpse of what could become a top-class engine room.
Up top, Romelu Lukaku should be match fit and ready to reclaim his role as an automatic starter. The big Belgian managed just 23 minutes off the bench against Leicester and will look to open his scoring account at the Amex Arena this weekend.
Alexis Sánchez, who struggled to transfer his sparkling preseason form to league play, will likely continue on the left side of United’s front three. That creates a three-way battle between Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Juan Mata on the right.
Brighton & Hove Albion will be eager to get their first points of the season in front of the home crowd. Last weekend, Chris Hughton’s side lost 2-0 at Watford. To make matters even worse, their captain, Bruno, hobbled off after 26 minutes with a hamstring injury and appears to be a major doubt for United’s visit.
In sharp contrast to Manchester United, Brighton were especially active in this summer’s transfer market. Hughton didn’t bring in any big names, but will once again rely on his club’s scouting department to spot diamonds in the rough.
They splashed a club record fee on 24-year-old Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh — and didn’t stop there. Brighton continued to make a substantial investment in the future with Bernardo (23), Florin Andone (25), and Yves Bissouma (21).
Veteran Glenn Murray, the club’s top scorer last season, will be pressed by Jahanbakhsh, who tallied 21 goals in the Eredivisie for AZ Alkmaar.
And Brighton will need their new record signing to hit the ground running if they hope to improve on last season’s 15th place finish. Honestly, they’d probably be just fine with anything above the relegation zone. Most pundits tipped Hughton’s side to slide right back down to the Championship last year, but they defied the critics all the way to Premier League survival.
En route to this second season in the top flight, Brighton actually defeated Manchester United 1-0 at the Amex Arena last May. A second-half Pascal Gross goal proved the difference that day — and the Reds surely want to avenge that disappointing defeat this weekend.
Brighton made a lot of changes this summer and Hughton is still working to fit all his new pieces together. Of the new signings, only Bernardo started at Watford last weekend, with Jahanbakhsh and Bissouma making their club debuts off the bench. On Sunday, Hughton will likely bring more of his new boys into the starting eleven.
It’s up to the Reds to give them a rude awakening to the Premier League hierarchy. If Manchester United harbor any hope of challenging at the top, they need to adopt a ruthless edge against the lower half of the table. Sure, there was improvement on that score last season — but Mourinho’s men need to take it to the next level in 2018/19. That starts with a convincing win on Sunday.