Manchester United kept the heat up on Manchester City at the top as a fortunate Ashley Young strike edged them past a find Brighton side at Old Trafford.
Young’s left-footed second-half shot looped over Matt Ryan in goal after a cruel deflection off Lewis Dunk, who did so well to keep out United’s attack all afternoon, although in truth, Jose Mourinho’s side were very poor.
Here are five things we learned from United’s narrow 1-0 win over Brighton…
For the second Premier League match running, Mourinho decided to abandon his defensive roots by playing both Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford behind Romelu Lukaku, with Juan Mata in tow, too. The Portuguese defended his tactics as being not as defensive as is being made out in the media, and correctly stated how United have scored more goals that everyone but City this season.
With both Martial and Rashford liking the left however, it does mean that one of them plays in the No 10 position which does take away from their pace somewhat. But even the two speed demons flanking Lukaku couldn’t bring the sort of exciting performance the Old Trafford faithful were yearning for, with the first half in particularly a fairly dull and dreary affair.
Going into the game with Brighton, Manchester United had not lost at home for 38 games, which tied the club’s record and by avoiding defeat again on Saturday it is another bit of history and one that follows Mourinho around wherever he goes.
Mourinho went nine years, four clubs and 151 home games without losing until he tasted defeat with Real Madrid – only his second ever home defeat – before eventually losing his Premier League home record with Chelsea in 2014 to Sunderland. With this home record now set and Old Trafford once again beginning to look like a fortress, it gives United a base to work from. This will get the ultimate test though on 10 December when City are the visitors.
Brighton no pushovers
Given the number of teams who have come to Old Trafford so far this season, conceded four, and then gone home, you would not have been alone in thinking newly-promoted Brighton would become the latest. However, they were far from that and, in the first half especially, were the better team.
Glenn Murray had a couple of decent chances while Anthony Knockaert’s mazy runs were reminiscent of his player-of-the-year-winning form from the Championship last season. And when United did get their opportunity, Matt Ryan produced an incredible double save from Paul Pogba and Lukaku. On Saturday’s performance a relegation battle should be beneath Chris Houghton’s side.
No plan B
For all of Brighton’s good attacking play in the first half, they reverted to time wasting and attempting to just restrict United as the home side gobbled up more and more of possession. By the hour mark Brighton had 11 men in their own half for large periods of time but United were unable to find a way through.
There was no change of tactics, no shift in emphasis on a particular area and no spectacular game-changing bit of skill. It was just a tremendous bit of luck which broke the deadlock – or bad luck, depending on what side you are on. But sometimes these are the bits of luck you need when you’re chasing the title against such stubborn opponents.
The Lukaku-Ibrahimovic quandary
For the third time in a week, the returning Zlatan Ibrahimovic came off the bench and for the third time, it was to partner Romelu Lukaku. However, it is the third tactic Mourinho has used of pairing them together. Against Newcastle last weekend, Lukaku was pushed to the left with Ibrahimovic as the lone striker before the Swede played in the No 10 slot behind in midweek against Basel.
However, against Brighton they were both up top together in a 4-4-2 formation, but with Ibrahimovic allowed more licence to drop deep. But again, they didn’t look like they were a duo who could play together too often. They are too similar. This is Mourinho’s next big challenge: to find a way to satisfy both forwards.
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