Brighton & Hove Albion-Manchester United Preview
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If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keeps this up, Manchester United will have a very short coaching search since they won't need to look outside Old Trafford.
The caretaker manager looks for his seventh win in as many matches since taking charge as United host Brighton and Hove Albion on the road Saturday.
United's first five matches with their former Norwegian striker in charge were a means of stabilising the storied franchise following the sacking of Jose Mourinho. The Red Devils took care of business with four league wins on the trot followed by an efficient FA Cup victory over Reading.
Last weekend's match at Wembley versus Tottenham Hotspur was the first real referendum on Solskjaer's coaching acumen, his counterpart Mauricio Pochettino also considered a potential suitor for the United job Solskjaer has openly stated he wants on a full-time basis.
And the Norwegian passed with flying colours as United (12-5-5) recorded a 1-0 victory over Spurs, moving within six points of the fourth and final Champions League spot while pulling level on points with Arsenal for fifth. Solskjaer opted to match Pochettino's diamond in midfield with one of his own, using Jesse Lingard as a false nine to open up space behind Tottenham's defence, which contributed to Marcus Rashford's goal on 44 minutes.
"The manager told us that at the beginning of the game it would be difficult to make short passes," midfielder Ander Herrera told United's official website. "He told us that it would be easier for us to switch the play and to look - almost without looking - to the other side of the pitch to switch the ball, because that is where we were going to find spaces.
"We scored like that, so thank you to the game plan as well."
In the second 45 minutes, the match belonged to David De Gea, who again rescued points for United with a standout performance. He finished with 11 saves, thwarting Spurs striker Harry Kane thrice and Dele Alli twice.
"Every one of them (my saves) was important for the team to help keep a clean sheet, to help the team to win so every save was important," De Gea said. It was a tough game for every player, we were attacking well, we create chances and this is United.
"They (Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones) have been top too, but not just them, the whole team, we have to defend from the striker to the goalkeeper so it was a great performance in the defensive way and we need to keep this level, keep winning games and fight for the top four."
Solskjaer became the first United manager to win his first six games in charge, bettering the mark established by Sir Matt Busby in the 1946-47 season. Once more he found the best in Pogba, whose 45-yard pass set up Rashford for his match-winner.
The World Cup winner has four goals and four assists since Solskjaer took over while Rashford has three goals in his last four matches and four since the managerial change.
Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-10) have a chance to complete their first double over Manchester United at any level since they recorded a 3-2 victory in the reverse fixture in August on first-half goals by Glenn Murray, Shane Duffy and Pascal Gross.
While United's outlook has changed since the match. The Seagulls continue to be a stubborn outfit under Chris Hughton and had their four-match unbeaten run in all competitions end with a tough 1-0 loss at home to Liverpool last weekend.
Gross committed the foul on Mohamed Salah that led to the match's only goal on 50 minutes, a bitter result for a Brighton side that played well and compact despite ceding nearly 70 percent position to the Premier League leaders. The effort has also provided hope among Albion they can grab a result at the Theatre of Dreams.
"Liverpool and Manchester United are the matches which are special in the Premier League, and you have important matches against top teams all the time," defender Martin Montoya told the club's official website. "I can see the team is growing since the start of the season, as we look more solid, physically stronger, and better individually.
"We are improving and at Manchester we will go out giving it our all to get a result."
Brighton will also be sporting a different look compared to the first meeting, with Hughton using a 4-3-3 that will look more like a 4-5-1 formation with the expectation United will see a lion's share of the possession. The move has most benefitted Jurgen Locadia, who had two goals and an assist in the four matches before the setback to Liverpool.
Also different will be the goalkeeper as David Button continues between the sticks while first-choice keeper Mathew Ryan plays for Australia in the Asian Cup. Button has helped Albion claim four points in his three league starts and recorded a clean sheet versus Everton.
In 10 trips to Old Trafford spanning 110 years, the Seagulls have just two draws to their credit - a 2-2 draw in the 1981 FA Cup and a 1-1 deadlock in the First Division in the 1982-83 season.
Manchester United have recorded four consecutive clean sheets at home versus Albion since that draw, with the lone league contest a 1-0 victory last term on an own goal by Seagulls defender Lewis Dunk. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic provided the offence in the most recent contest there in the FA Cup quarterfinals last March.
Updated January 17, 2019