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PRESS PREVIEW: MANCHESTER UNITED

24 November 2017

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The press preview ahead of Albion's trip to Old Trafford.

Simon Peach from the Press Association gives us the lowdown on Saturday’s opponents ahead of Brighton & Hove Albion’s trip to Old Trafford.

Second in the league – trailing Man City – only lost two league games so a good start?
It has certainly been promising and the improvements are clear, both in terms of acquisitions and approach. Nemanja Matic hit the ground running and Romelu Lukaku has added an extra ingredient in attack, even if his goals have dried up of late.
 
Victor Lindelof is proving a slow-burner, but the defensive options at Jose Mourinho's disposal means he can ease the Sweden international in. United have looked strong at the back once again this term and are showing more attacking flair than last term.
 
Is it simply a case of United vs City in the league?
I think that would be a little too simplistic given the resources of others. However, right now it is hard to see past Pep Guardiola's side given their strength in depth, mesmerising football and attacking prowess.
 
That said, there will come a bump in a road and it is how they respond to it. As for United, they have key players coming back at a crucial time in the season and have shown resilience when there have been setbacks under Mourinho.
 
Four 4-0 wins this season – show of ruthlessness?
There is certainly more of a cutting edge than last season when barely a week would go by without Mourinho bemoaning the inability to translate dominance into goals. That has certainly improved this season and particularly at Old Trafford, where last season their Premier League campaign was de-railed by struggles against sides you would ordinarily expect them to beat.
 
They are not yet at their peak, though, and those struggles re-emerged on Wednesday when they lost to Basel. Mourinho felt they should have been five goals up at half-time, but they failed to take their chances and dropped off markedly as Basel deservedly won.
 
Strong side all over the field – but I guess the ones to watch would be the likes of Lukaku, Martial, Rashford and Pogba? Can you pick out one?
Up until his hamstring injury, Paul Pogba was the standout player of the season in my humble opinion. His first season back at Old Trafford was solid rather than spectacular, but he has gone up a level this term and some of his midfield play is a joy to behold.
 
Pogba showed little sign of rust with a man-of-the-match return against Newcastle and impressed again in Basel, where United were noticeably worse when he was replaced. Match fitness remains and issue, though, so it will be interesting to see Mourinho's plan for him on Saturday.
 
Ibra return from injury? Two up front now?
It is certainly an option - and a mouth-watering one at that if Mourinho can shoehorn the players into an effective formation. Ibrahimovic’s class is well-documented as is Lukaku’s exciting potential, while Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford offer dynamism and only increase the fear factor. 
 
A word on the manager – had an impact – is he seen as a long term option? Doesn’t tend to stick around too long at clubs but won two trophies last season…
Those higher up at United certainly seem happy enough with the manager. That comes as little surprise given his standing in the game and unerring knack of winning trophies, but, as you rightly point out, he tends to manage in short, intense bursts. Links to Paris St Germain continue to rumble on - fuelled by what could be considered public flirtation by Mourinho - and his relationship with the fans has become complex recently after surprisingly questioning their treatment of Romelu Lukaku during the win against Tottenham.
 
If there were murmurings of discontent about the striker, they were not noticeable in the press box so it was a surprise to see him take another little dig at them in his programme notes at the next game. It will be interesting to see if that flares up again.
 
Will they win the league?
There is a reason I am popular with bookmakers so I will avoid the inevitable wrong call. United do, though, look ready to pounce on any City slip-ups and know they can ill-afford to lose any further ground. If Brighton are to get a positive result, you are going to have to be at your defensive best and take your chances.

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