After a gap of 34 years, Manchester United will face Brighton & Hove Albion in any kind of competitive match and would want to avoid a shock against the newly promoted team. The red half of Manchester are already eight points behind their noisy neighbours and any slight hiccup will result in Guardiola’s men taking an advantage in the league table.
Manchester United are coming off a 1-0 defeat against FC Basel at Switzerland and Mourinho has the challenge of keeping his team fresh and ready for this match. They have a busy set of fixtures in the winter and squad rotation will be necessary to avoid any more injuries, which have hampered United’s progress this season.
Most of Manchester United’s injury problems have been solved as Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Marcos Rojo have made returns. Jose Mourinho has been extremely patient with his players’ injuries and has somehow managed to mount a title challenge though it can be argued that they have fallen down the pecking order.
United’s captain Michael Carrick has barely played any competitive football this season as he has been constantly troubled by injuries. Carrick is nursing a calf injury now and can be expected back within a couple of weeks. Phil Jones apparently took six injections to play a friendly against Germany and that left Jose Mourinho fuming at Gareth Southgate. Eric Bailly has also been ruled out of this match.
David de Gea will be back to claim the goalkeeping gloves after sitting out for the Champions League match against Basel in the midweek. De Gea will be disappointed for not keeping a clean sheet in the last home game against Newcastle last weekend and will look to make amends. Chris Smalling has been solid at the back and has had a good set of games until now.
Smalling is anyways an intimidating factor in the box but has improved his positional awareness and ball clearing abilities to become a trusted man for Mourinho. Victor Lindelof could be given another opportunity to prove his claim and the former Benfica man needs to step up to feature regularly on the team sheet. The Swede has taken time to adjust to the Premier League and judging by his talent, he can form a formidable partnership with Chris Smalling.
Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young will occupy the two fullback positions. Both of them, despite being quite older than their contemporaries from other teams have been excellent in their job. Young has been criticised for his lack of defensive contribution, but his crossing and key passes in the final third cannot be ignored. Valencia, on the other hand, sticks to the job at hand and usually completes it with aplomb.
Paul Pogba’s return has allowed Jose Mourinho to play with his preferred midfield duo of Nemanja Matic and the charismatic Frenchman. Matic has been brilliant since his move to Manchester United and has taken to the team as fish to water. His hold-up play, ability to break down attacks and his contribution in the swift transitions from defence to attack often go unnoticed. His presence allows Pogba to play higher up on the pitch, in a position he usually thrives in.
Pogba showed his importance to the team in the game against Newcastle by delivering a wonderful assist to Anthony Martial for the first goal. He then added up to it by scoring a goal himself and thus making a memorable return from injury. He adds a certain flair and creativity, which Mourinho’s team miss in his absence.
Jose Mourinho sprung one of his usual surprises in the match against Newcastle when he decided to start with Martial and Rashford on either flank. Their incredible pace and dribbling prowess helped United control the game in attack better. However, as the Portuguese tactician accepted that there was a certain imbalance in the defensive solidity of the team and he would not like to repeat that error often. Hence, one must expect Martial to sit on the bench in this match as the manager would go with Rashford who did not play against Basel.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata could return to the starting XI after the duo were left out due to a poor run of form. Both of them have had some good time off and there is a possibility that they would have rediscovered their old magical touch. Romelu Lukaku ended his seven-match barren run by finishing a lethal strike against Newcastle and would look forward to continuing on this goal-scoring form.