Premier League Match of the Week: Brighton vs. Manchester United

Premier League Match of the Week: Brighton vs. Manchester United

This article is part of our Match of the Week series.

Manchester United were on the back foot throughout Sunday's clash, but pulled out two goals to take an unlikely win over Brighton. The Red Devils take the entirety of the season series after beating Brighton 3-1 in September. The Seagulls ended the season in 11th place with 48 points, while United ended in eighth with 60 points. 

Starting XI

Brighton stuck with their typical 4-2-3-1 and United ran a somewhat faux 4-2-3-1 with Bruno Fernandes in the false-nine role.

The Seagulls saw a handful of changes, starting with Jason Steele replacing Bart Verbruggen in net. Valentin Barco and Jakub Moder came in for Lewis Dunk and Tariq Lamptey in the defense, forcing Igor to shift centrally with Lewis Dunk out. Carlos Baleba and Adam Lallana entered the midfield to replace Billy Gilmour and Julio Enciso. Finally, Danny Welbeck replaced Facundo Buonanotte, with Roberto De Zerbie rotating in his final match.

Manchester United, on the contrary, only made one change. The newly fit Lisandro Martinez entered the middle of the defense, replacing Jonny Evans

Match Facts

United came out on top despite their early difficulties. They made no changes stylistically in the season finale, keeping the same defensive and direct tactic to face the Seagulls.

Defensively, they kept up with the same discipline they've used all campaign, building a medium block right above their box while sinking in and keeping a firm line instead of stepping up to press. United set up with a 4-2-2-2 when defending, dropping all 10 outfield players back, but it can quickly turn into a 6-3-1 when pushed back, giving more protection to their box.

They built up most of their play from this point, hoping a long ball could find an attacker through on net. This strategy is where most of their game develops because without the counter, they are sitting ducks due to most of their build-up halting around midfield on most occasions. 

Most of their attack comes off a direct counterattack with that being sparked by a long ball out to the two wingers or Fernandes, who is then used for a quick turn and through ball to those on the wing. From there, much of the pressure is put on Amad Diallo and Alejandro Garnacho to carry the ball upfield, either looking to cut into a shot or find a runner into the box for a quick shot. They are sometimes offered support from the full-backs, but they tend not to push too far forward unless needed, as that leaves the defense susceptible.

This led to United losing the ball in the middle of the pitch repeatedly, forcing them into a very one-dimensional style of attack. However, this still worked in their favor, as despite Brighton knowing they only had to defend the long ball, the persistence finally caused two mistakes from the Brighton defense, leading to both goals.

Brighton also maintained the same tactics they used for much of the season, attacking with an indirect style of tiki-taka but still including a bit of sporadic counterattacking while defending using a counter-press style. 

The Seagulls were most successful defensively despite the loss and having numerous chances on net, as their press was a headache for the Red Devils. They had success early on with the press and man-to-man marking starting their chances in the middle of the pitch due to the struggles of United, creating an easy pass forward to a breaking player and forcing United out of shape. 

When set up on their side of the field, they started in a 4-4-2 to defend, with the front two of Welbeck and Lallana pressing heavily on the defenders to force an errant pass while the rest of the team looked to create a block well above their box. They picked their spots to press instead of pressing every time the ball switches feet, looking to only press on a heavy touch or when they could press with multiple players to close down all passing lanes.

Offensively, Brighton built-up from the back but had no problem building up higher on the pitch due to their constant creation of turnovers due to their counter-press. The most vital part of this tactic is their full-backs, with Barco and Moder contributing heavily in pushing up the pitch, combining for two chances created, four touches in the opposing box and eight passes into the final third. 

When it came to their quicker build-up, most of their play depends on fast movement and passing, ideally having no one in the same spot to receive a pass after getting rid of the ball and using one-two passing to create most of their opportunities. This was mainly done through the middle of the pitch, as they tended to stay slimmer when pushing up the field, not wanting to send play wide until near their foe's box, attempting to create more space for play around the 18-yard box. 

They also included some counterattacking here and there, rarely going through the middle when doing this and focusing the ball out wide to prevent an instant counterattack from the opposition in the middle of the field if a turnover occurs. 

Brighton would see great success from their attacking movement and from their defensive spots, despite the loss, with their struggles mainly coming from their ability to put chances away, only putting three of their 17 shots on net, with two of those resulting in goal-line clearances. 

This match went the opposite way of what many expected, as United were dominated for most of the match, only finding two slight sparks of decent play that would turn into goals. When looking at the stats, it was Brighton's match to lose, as they registered 55-percent possession, three big chances, 17 shots and 1.88 xG compared to the Red Devils' 45 percent, one big chance, 11 shots and 1.29 xG.

Man of the Match

This was a difficult selection, as in my opinion, none of the players truly earned the Man of the Match. Basically every player had a near-mediocre performance, which isn't too surprising in a game that didn't mean anything for either side. However, with my hand being forced, I selected Diogo Dalot. His display wasn't outstanding, but his goal would propel United to the win, taking advantage of a misread ball from a Brighton defender to put away an easy one-on-one opportunity. He also had two chances created and three passes into the final third in the attack to go with one clearance, an interception, three tackles and three duels won defensively. 

Looking Ahead

Heading into the new season, Brighton has a lot to unpack. They've successfully stayed in the Premier League for a seventh consecutive season, but saw their worst finish since the 2020/21 campaign. More importantly, they will search for a new manager, as the mastermind of their sudden rise in the Premier League, Roberto De Zerbi, is moving elsewhere.

Manchester United are heading into a dire situation, as they earned their worst finish in league play since rebranding to the Premier League, ending with 60 points and an eighth place. They also have a managerial issue since it's unknown if Erik Ten Hag is on his way out or will be given another season to turn the Red Devils around.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Will Van Dinter
I graduated from Wisconsin Dells High School and attended University of Wisconsin-Madison for one year. I support all Wisconsin sports teams, with UW-Madison athletics being the highest of my priorities while the Green Bay Packers are not trailing far behind. My whole life revolves around soccer and the highest tiers of competition in the sport. When it comes to my favorite team, there is only one thing I can say: Manchester bleeds blue. I am also a huge fan of combat sports, with wrestling holding a special place in my heart, as I truly think it is the most underrated sport in America.
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