Manchester United vs Brighton & Hove Albion Preview: Reds relaxed, but need win to continue title chase

José Mourinho is relaxed about his side's title aspirations, at least publicly, but needs a win against Brighton, who travel to Old Trafford for one of the biggest games of their debut Premier League season.

Manchester United vs Brighton & Hove Albion Preview: Reds relaxed, but need win to continue title chase
Photo: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

José Mourinho may be presenting a publicly relaxed outlook on the title race, but Manchester United have a spell of must-win games to continue their chase of rivals Manchester City, starting by hosting a Brighton & Hove Albion side who haven't lost a game since October 1st.

"We haven't reached 50 per cent of the season yet so let's be calm," Mourinho declared on Friday morning. But even at this early stage, Man United are eight points behind their neighbours, who are the runaway favourites.

As often with United, it's just another game for the Reds. For Chris Hughton's promoted Brighton side, it's far from it. "These are the days you've worked so hard for as a team and it's what we got promoted for," said the Seagulls boss. "What we hope to do is to make a good account of ourselves there and we hope we can do that."

These two sides haven't met in the top flight since March 1983 (a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford). It's a momentous day for Brighton. For United, three points are needed as ever, but it's also another important game in the returns of a trio of long-term absentees: Paul PogbaZlatan Ibrahimović and Marcos Rojo.

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United's 4-1 dismantling of Brighton's fellow promoted side Newcastle United was impressive. That result, coupled with the returns of Pogba, Ibrahimović, Rojo and Fellaini, saw the confidence of United's players and fans immediately rise. Going into the international break, the Reds had been beaten by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

But Mourinho's men cannot be said to be in good form. They've lost two of their last three. A midweek defeat to FC Basel due to a terrible second-half performance, culminating in an 89th-minute winner from Michael Lang, wasn't acceptable, even though United will still progress as Group A winners in the UEFA Champions League.

Brighton, unfortunately for the Seagulls, have to be the prey to a fearsome United attack. They are in excellent form, though. Sitting 9th in the Premier League after almost a third of the season, seven points clear of the relegation zone, is a very healthy position. Their success comes from seeing off struggling sides with relative ease: they've beaten West Brom, West Ham, Newcastle and Swansea City, and have drawn with Southampton and Everton.

United showed they do have defensive vulnerabilities, particularly with Mourinho missing both Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, against Newcastle, with Dwight Gayle scoring the opening goal and Jacob Murphy missing a good chance to double the visitors' lead at one stage.

Team News

Manchester United

Players are coming back, but aren't fully fit yet. Pogba still cannot play more than 70 minutes, Mourinho revealed at his pre-match press conference, where he also explained that Ibrahimović may make another apeparance off the bench, as he did against Newcastle and Basel, replacing Anthony Martial, but will not start. Marcos Rojo started, played the full game and impressed hugely against Basel, and could start again on Saturday, though it would be a risk given Wednesday evening's match was his first since April.

Phil Jones and Eric Bailly remain an injured central defensive paternship. Michael Carrick also remains unavailable.

Antonio Valencia, Juan Mata and Ashley Young were all rested for the Champions League game against Basel, and could all return to the squad.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been dropped for United's last two games. Mourinho, given how well United did against Newcastle at home, is unlikely to bring him back in yet.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Chris Hughton has a player of his own returning in Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal, who suffered a broken leg during pre-season.

Steve Sidwell's back problem means he's still not in contention to play.

Key Stat

Man United have only lost to a team in their debut Premier League season once at Old Trafford - a 3-2 defeat to Derby County in 1996/97. They've won their last 18 home games against teams in their debut Premier League season.

Prediction

United should win comfortably. Comfortable is exactly what they've been at Old Trafford this season, winning their opening nine home games of the season in all competitions. Brighton have been doing well, excellently even, since the start of October, but United, with Pogba back in midfield, should have enough.

The real test will be how United cope when the Frenchman has to leave the pitch after 70 minutes or so on Saturday. They cannot afford to be overly reliant on him, which they appear to be at the moment.