Three talking points as Manchester United earnt a narrow victory over Brighton & Hove Albion
Manchester United ensured that they kept on the heels of rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table after a huge slice of luck earnt them three points against Brighton on Saturday.
Losses against Huddersfield Town and Chelsea in recent weeks had seen Jose Mourinho’s side lose ground on their neighbours and they could ill-afford another slip-up against a spirited Seagulls side.
They came close to breaking the deadlock in the first-half when Brighton ‘keeper Mathew Ryan denied Romelu Lukaku with a smart double save, but clear opportunities were limited for the hosts.
The opener – and eventual winner – came in hugely fortunate circumstances, with Ashley Young’s effort from 25-yards taking a wicked deflection off of Lewis Dunk and nestling into the top corner.
Brighton pressed for an equaliser late in the game but United held on for a vital three points, and Mourinho’s side remain eight points adrift after Pep Guardiola’s side beat Huddersfield on Sunday.
Lukaku’s two moments of controversy
After starting his Manchester United career in impressive fashion with seven goals in his first eight Premier League appearances, the goals have dried up and frustration has grown for Romelu Lukaku.
Since scoring in the 4-0 win over Crystal Palace the £75million summer signing has found the net once in six league games, and his starting role could be under increasing scrutiny with Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who scored 17 goals last campaign – returning from his injury quicker than expected.
And despite failing to score during Saturday’s win over Brighton he was still involved in a telling moment of controversy, with the linesman awarding a Manchester United corner after his challenge was adjudged to have touched the ball onto Solly March – a corner that led to United’s winning goal.
Yet it has transpired since the match that Lukaku was at the centre of further controversy at Old Trafford, with a potential three-match ban said to be in the pipeline after allegedly kicking out at Gaetan Bong.
Sources close to ESPN claimed that the Belgian international aimed two kicks at the Brighton defender – catching him with the second – although it seems that Lukaku will escape without sanction following the incident after the Football Association decided against taking any further action.
Brighton come close to famous point
It may have been their first league visit to Old Trafford since 1983 but Brighton certainly weren’t overawed by the occasion, and they showed that they’ve adapted to playing in the Premier League.
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho summed it up best himself with his post-match thoughts, saying how the Seagulls ‘deserved more than the result they got’, and on the balance of play throughout the 90 minutes it is hard to disagree as Brighton more than matched their opponents.
They were defensively excellent, limiting the hosts to just a handful of clear chances as their organisation and discipline proved hard to break down, but they possessed attacking threat too.
Anthony Knockaert looked dangerous whenever on the ball down the right-hand side, and fellow attacker Pascal Gross was unlucky not to see one of his balls across the face find a definitive touch.
In the end it was nothing more than a devilish slice of luck that proved the difference on the day, and Brighton can take a number of positives into their next match against rivals Crystal Palace this week.
Lindelof enjoys best game in a United shirt
It’s been anything but easy for Victor Lindelof since making the switch from Benfica during the summer transfer window but Saturday’s display against Brighton should fill him with confidence.
His well-documented mistakes against Huddersfield Town – one which cost United points – and Newcastle United haven’t exactly endeared him much to the Manchester United fans, but performing like he did on Saturday could signal the start of a turnaround in his Old Trafford career.
In the absence of both first-choice centre-backs Phil Jones and Eric Bailly he deputised admirably, looking composed on the ball and assured with his positioning, and there was one particular crunching sliding tackle on Knockaert that wouldn’t have looked out of place if it had come from Nemanja Vidic.
There are moments in every player’s career that can be deemed as turning points, and in Lindelof’s case this could well be it – with just one determined challenge he managed to get a rapturous response from the Old Trafford faithful, and after that his display merely went from strength to strength.
Mourinho has shown a lot of faith in the young Swedish international and it could be that it’s starting to pay dividends now, and it’s up to Lindelof to kick on from this and forget past misdemeanors.