Three reasons why Man Utd will beat Brighton to get Erik ten Hag off to flying start despite rift with Cristiano Ronaldo | The Sun

THE Premier League season is back. And what does that normally bring?

False hope for Man United fans, that’s what.

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The new United coach Erik ten Hag has seen his preparations overshadowed by the behaviour of their star striker and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese international has made it clear that he wants to leave the club in search of Champions League football.

As Ronaldo did not travel on the pre-season tours there are many questions around who will lead the attack for United at the start of the season.

While Manchester United have had a somewhat turbulent pre-season the same cannot be said of Brighton.

Yes, they have lost two of their stronger players with Yves Bissouma off to Tottenham and Marc Cucurella to Chelsea.

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How Man Utd could line up against Brighton with Cristiano Ronaldo dilemma

But they have gone about their business calmly and methodically as they always do. 

This all adds up to an interesting encounter this coming Sunday with a stable Brighton side visiting a United team around whom there are still a lot of questions.

Here are three key areas which will dictate Sunday’s outcome.

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No Bissouma, no problem

In terms of their recruitment, Brighton are a side who work with one eye on the future.

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We know that Brighton will play with a three at the back system this coming Sunday and Caicedo appears to be the favourite to take the ‘6’ role at the base of the midfield just in front of the defensive line

Last season we saw them add two players, Enock Mwepu from Red Bull Salzburg and Moises Caicedo from Independiente del Valle, with a view to adding security to their squad in the face of interest in their Malian international midfielder Yves Bissouma.

While Bissouma did not move until this summer both Mwepu and Caicedo had time to settle at the club before they had to step forward to take more responsibility this coming season.

We expect to see Brighton start the match in a 3-5-2 system and this will match up to a 4-2-3-1 from United.

The midfield battle will be key with Ten Hag likely to start with a double pivot at the base of the midfield – Fred and Scott McTominay – while Bruno Fernandes will operate as the ‘10’.

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This will mean that the midfield unit from Brighton will have to be ready to battle to control this key area of the pitch.

With Caicedo likely to play as the ‘6’ and Enock Mwepu ready to play as one of the two ‘8’s we have seen Brighton manager Graham Potter try out different options as the third midfielder across pre-season.

The smart money will be on the third midfielder being one of Alexis Mac Allister or Pascal Gross.

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Brighton have different options in terms of the styles of midfielders that they can choose from.

Moses Caicedo is perhaps more comfortable in a deeper role where he can break up attacks before playing progressive passes that break the lines and move his team forward.

Enock Mwepu is more of a box-to-box threat while Alexis MacAllister carries a more attacking threat.

The key will be how the Brighton midfield combine to battle a United midfield with the same personnel as last season but a very different model of playing.

Utd will revolve around Fernandes

The appointment of Ten Hag and his coaching staff has re-energised both the playing staff and the fans of Manchester United.

On social media, we saw footage emerge showing some of the training drills that the United players were competing in under their new coach.

One of the biggest takeaways from these videos was that there was a new intensity amongst the United squad with players throwing themselves into challenges and the ball being moved at real speed.

While there are a number of United players who will benefit from a more robust and professional approach from the coaching staff it is perhaps Bruno Fernandes who stands to benefit the most.

The Portuguese international midfielder is an intense individual who is obsessed with football.

Often at times last season, he cut a disconsolate figure on the pitch as United struggled to play with any cohesion.

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This pre-season has seen Fernandes get back to approaching his best as he buzzes around the final third and creates danger consistently while United are in the attacking phase of the game.

He has the ability to find pockets of space to receive the ball in the final third as well as the intelligence to attack space around the penalty area.

In this match, the positioning and movement of Fernandes will be key for United as they look to find space to play into in the final third.

Brighton will press aggressively in order to disrupt the United build-up and as such the away team will need to play at tempo in order to break through to the final third.

This will mean that they will need players like Fernandes who will allow them to play quickly into dangerous areas.

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Fernandes is a creative and attacking threat who can affect the game at any point.

One of the keys in this match will surround how Brighton set up to deny him the space that he needs in the final third to be at his most effective.

New look to Utd's attack

With Cristiano Ronaldo increasingly unlikely to feature this coming Sunday, at least from the start of the match, we will see a new look to the United attack with Anthony Martial likely to be given an opportunity to reinvigorate his United career.

Last season we saw Ronaldo typically play as the central striker for United and the Portuguese international forward is explosive in the final third but he does not typically cause trouble with his movement or link-up play.

Martial has impressed this pre-season with his willingness to work relentlessly and to threaten space behind the defensive line with his pace and off-the-ball movement.

Last season, when facing a United that were spearheaded by Ronaldo, we would see opposition teams content to play higher defensive lines as they were less worried about the pace of Ronaldo.

Martial forces teams to play deeper with his movement and aggressive runs behind the line.

This movement from Martial will give United options in this game to play longer in order to stretch the play but it will also force Brighton to defend the threat in behind by playing slightly less aggressively with their defensive line. 

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The style of play from Martial in offering aggressive off-the-ball movements also plays into the strengths of Bruno Fernandes in the ‘10’ role.

Brighton will have to drop off to defend the space and prevent Martial from making free runs through and into space but in doing so they will give space for Fernandes that he can occupy in front of them to receive the ball.

Who will win?

Even if you add in the 50% pre-season tax (meaning, pre-season friendlies count for absolutely nothing) United already feel in better shape than at any point last season.

Granted, they’ve not had a chance to prove that wrong yet.

With that in mind, you’d fancy them to beat Brighton no matter how well-drilled and pleasing on the eye Potter has the Seagulls being.

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A win for United at Old Trafford will count way more than just three points to the club – equally, a defeat for Brighton won’t cause any major dramas at the Amex.

Flip that around however, and you can already imagine the outcry if Brighton get a win on Sunday.

The new Total Football Analysis Magazine is out now.

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