Saturday, March 17 – 7:45pm Local time – Old Trafford, Manchester, United Kingdom
Manchester United will be determined to let bygones be bygones when they welcome Brighton & Hove Albion for the quarter-finals of the FA Cup this Saturday.
Their clustered week of three consecutive home matches, which began with a swashbuckling victory over Liverpool in the Premier Leaguee, has unforeseeably turned into an insidious, illicit affair.
The 2-1 home win over the Merseyside club over the weekend set the perfect mood and tempo heading into a decisive Champions League tie; one which the Red devils would falter ignominiously much to everyone’s dismay.
United lost against Sevilla by a similar margin with which they won against Liverpool, a result that sent them tumbling out of the Champions League in the round of 16. It wasn’t so much that the La Liga side was exponentially exceptional, if anything their linkup play and finishing was suspect throughout the match, up until the 72nd minute when Ben Yedder was introduced.
The striker proved to be United’s worst nightmare as he quickly got off the mark within two minutes of coming on, leading the traveling fans into celebration with the opener. The game then, in full blown fusion, navigated their way when the Frenchman put his side on the driving seat with a free header to double the advantage just four minutes later.
Romelu Lukaku, one of the few players on the night who seemed to have a shred of care, whipped the leather home from close range to pull one back, but it was too little too late to rally a historic comeback.
The result does mean that David Moyes still holds the record for advancing the furthest in the Champions League- the quarterfinals in 2014- since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
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It was a grim picture of disappointment in Old Trafford at the final whistle, as boos ringed across the stadium from a section of the fans that were clearly not impressed by Jose Mourinho’s tactics.
And why not, considering that the result was heavily underpinned by Mourinho’s lack of tactical nous? His decision to start Marouane Fellaini- who hasn’t played a full match in four months due to injury- in place of the impressive Scott McTominay was shocking, but unforgivable compared to switching Marcus Rashford to the right wing.
If was baffling why Jose chose to play the England international on the right, more so after the Academy graduate scored a brace against Liverpool from the left wing just three days earlier.
His decision to further field two holding midfielders in order to potentially defend with six and hit on the counter with four attacking players neither helped United assert any dominance, nor alter the gravity of the tie in any way.
What’s more; the negative, archaic defensive mindset by the Man United boss was so bad, that Old Trafford felt like a library on a pivotal Champions League night.
There will be endless debates on how United potentially lost the tie with the stale draw in Seville, or how they shot themselves on the foot in front of their own supporters, but Saturday presents yet another opportunity to make right their wrongs.
It’s only human to feel dejected after such a horrid loss and performance, but the FA Cup is the only realistic piece of silverware Jose Mourinho’s side can clinch this season.
As such, Manchester United have little option but to give the home crowd something to cheers about with a fine performance against Brighton.
United have already beaten Chris Hughton’s side this season, a labored 1-0 win last November, but it will be incumbent upon the team to fire on all cylinders for a place in the last four of the FA Cup; they owe it to the fans.
Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial could return to the starting eleven after making it to the team sheet during the shock midweek defeat in the Champions League.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic trained with the first team this week after a long-term absence with a knee injury, but there is no surety over his participation this weekend.
Ander Herrera and Marco Rojo could bolster United’s chances with a return, but the defensive duo of Phil Jones and Daley Blind remain sidelined with injuries.
Anthony Knockaert is out of the tie as he will begin serving the first of a three-match ban having received a straight red card during the 2-0 defeat in the last game against Everton, while Jiri Skalak- who has been recuperating from an ankle injury- could make it to the team sheet.
Dale Stephens, Isaiah Brown and Steve Sidwell are all however ruled out for the Seagulls.
Romelu Lukaku odds and specials
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Romelu Lukaku’s goal against Sevilla was his 23rd of the season which means the Belgian has been directly involved in 31 goals thus far on his debut season at the club.
The striker has scored 11 goals in his last 10 FA Cup appearances, including the brace against Huddersfield in the 5th round, and is as such poised to get on the score sheet again as Manchester United endeavor to return back to winning ways.
Manchester United vs. Brighton match predictions
Brighton have beaten Middlesbrough and Coventry City on their way to the last eight, scoring four times and conceding once, while United have six goals in their last two qualifying rounds without letting in any.
Chris Hughton may smell blood against a susceptible Manchester United side coming on the backend of a defeat, but it is the wounded Jose Mourinho that will be baying for blood.
Manchester United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion recent results
Man United 1-0 Brighton (November 25, 2017) – EPL
Lewis Dunk 66′ (OG)
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