Manchester United host Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on Saturday. The Reds remain perfect under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, showing a killer instinct against lesser teams reminiscent of the Sir Alex Ferguson days. For many supporters, the question isn’t whether United will win this weekend, but rather by how much.
And, after that win over Spurs, who can blame them?
If last weekend at Wembley was Solskjaer’s first big test as United boss, he passed with flying colors. After five wins over lower-table (and Championship) competition, Ole’s Reds went toe-to-toe with Tottenham Hotspur and returned home with a precious 1-0 victory. That result, coupled with Arsenal’s derby loss to West Ham, move United level with the Gunners in fifth.
The Spurs match was an end-to-end affair and United certainly rode their luck at times, but all that matters is the final score. No one did more to secure those three points than goalkeeper David De Gea. With his world-class bona fides never in doubt, De Gea doesn’t get a lot of mention in these previews, but he’s having another magnificent season.
After holding Spurs without a shot on goal before halftime, the second half proved a totally different story. The hosts peppered De Gea’s goal with eleven shots — requiring the Spanish goalkeeper to use every bit of his dexterity and positioning to keep the ball out of the net.
With any other keeper, there’s no way United keep that clean sheet. That’s now three in a row for the much-maligned Reds defense, although most of the credit for this one goes to De Gea. There’s just no overstating DDG’s performance last weekend. On another day, Spurs might have scored 3 or 4 goals.
With his 100% record intact after six matches, Solskjaer just wants to keep winning. “I know why I am here,” he said afterwards. “I know what my job description is for the months I am here, so I am just doing whatever I can to help the club and help the team.”
“We won this one and we look forward to Brighton,” Solskjaer continued. “It is another chance to get three points. We have got to look up the table because we have got teams to catch. We are in great form. When you play like this and have the team spirit that we do — the work ethic — we look at every game as a winnable one.”
The manager’s best eleven almost picks itself right now. Up top, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard all look dangerous — especially after Solskjaer made a surprising tactical tweak at Wembley by moving Lingard into a central position and sending Rashford out wide. As such, Lingard was in the perfect spot to win the ball before Paul Pogba delivered a cross-field stunner to Rashford streaking down the right channel. Marcus made no mistake and scored the winning goal.
Eric Bailly returns from his three-match suspension, but will probably have to settle for a place on the bench. It’s hard to imagine Solskjaer breaking up the center back duo of Phil Jones and Victor Lindelöf after three straight clean sheets. The same goes for almost every position — the United starters are playing so well that it would be unfair to drop any of them.
Another possible returnee is Alexis Sánchez. After training all week in Dubai, most expected him to at least make the bench against Spurs, but Solskjaer felt he still needed some more recovery time. “He is not ready, no,” the United boss said last weekend. “I think he will be training when we get back. Maybe Wednesday he will be full training. It is just one of those blows. He is just having a hard time getting rid of it, so hopefully next week maybe he can be involved.”
Sánchez continued training and building up fitness this week, so hopefully Solskjaer’s right and United’s high-priced winger will be back to full strength for Brighton’s visit.
If Manchester United were a little lucky to beat Tottenham last weekend, Brighton & Hove Albion rued their misfortune against Liverpool. Unbeaten in four matches leading up to that game, the Seagulls held up well under the immense pressure of Liverpool’s attack, before conceding a penalty in the second half. Mohamed Salah buried the spot kick, depriving Brighton of the point they deserved.
“We now go into another huge challenge at Manchester United,” manager Chris Hughton said after the tough loss. “If I get the same from the players next week, I’ll be delighted.”
Left back Bernardo (hamstring) and winger Jose Izquierdo (knee) both missed the Liverpool match through injury. They join Yves Bissouma (hip) as doubts for this weekend’s match.
There's not a lot of goals in Hughton’s squad, but forward Glenn Murray will be the one to watch as United try to run their clean sheet streak to four. Murray leads the club with eight goals on the season, although it’s been over a month since his last score. Nevertheless, he’s a crafty veteran eager to exploit any space given to him.
The last meeting between these two sides was a day to forget for the Reds. Back in August, Brighton jumped all over United and scored twice before the half hour mark. A late Pogba penalty made it 3-2, but that final scoreline flattered the Reds after a very poor performance. Hopefully that loss will be avenged this weekend.
After six wins from six, expectations are on the rise for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. There’s even been a few reports leaking out that the Norwegian caretaker has moved into pole position for the full-time job. United is a club all about winning and Solskjaer’s been perfect on that score. Another one on Saturday can only help his case.