Premier League 2019/20: Manchester United vs Brighton & Hove Albion – Tactical Analysis


On Sunday, 10 November 2019 Manchester United took on Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford in this round of fixtures in the Premier League 2019/20 season. This was a big game for United as a 1-0 defat last time out to Bournemouth adds to the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With his side starting the day behind Brighton it was bound to be a tough test. Especially as the visitors come into the game having won three of their last four fixtures. This tactical analysis will break down the tactics used by Solskjaer and the tactics used by Graham Potter.


Despite United’s defeat last time out Ole only made one change for this game which was forced on him through Ashley Young suspension. This meant that Brandon Williams made his first-ever Premier League start. This does not change United tactically. However, Potter may tell his wingers to particularly target United left-hand side especially as Marcus Rashford is not the best defensively.

United stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation as it allows them to get a lot of numbers into the opposing third. With Anthony Martial as the loan striker,  the Red Devils will look for him to mix up his game. As sometimes they will need him to come deep to look for the ball. Other time in the game they tried to use his pace in behind.

Brighton also stays with the trusted 4-4-2 as Neal Maupay will be the target man for the seagulls to target when getting out of defence. With  Aaron Connolly his partner up top it gives Brighton a good mix of pace and skill.

Seagulls press high

From the outset, it is clear that Brighton wanted to limit the options United have on the ball to either force the midfield pairing of Scott McTominay and Fred into a mistake. if not they wanted to force the defence to play it long where they back  Lewis Dunk or Shane Duffy to win the header against Martial.

They were able to do this as Connolly or Maupay would put pressure on Harry Maguire or Victor Lindelöf. This would force them out to the fullbacks who wouldn’t have the option of their two midfielders as Dale Stephens and Davy Pröpper would be covering the middle.

Space for United 

Part of Solskjaer tactics is to let Brighton press in the area demonstrated as it means the Seagulls will have committed men up the pitch. United are happy for them to do this as they back both McTominay and Fred’s ability on the ball to take the ball on with pressure and find a forward pass to the front four.

This then isolates United’s attackers against Brighton’s backline. This is exciting from a United point of view as it allows a skilful player like Marcus Rashford and Daniel James to be one vs one. This is where they like to be

Because of the forward press from Brighton when united can get the ball to the players like Rashford they have space to run into. This is because there is a big gap between the defence and the midfield. As a result, this leads to changes for the Red Devils like this one where Rashofd can run into space and forces a save from Mathew Ryan.

Deflected Delight 

Unsurprisingly the opening goal goes the way of Manchester United. This comes as a ball from Fred to Andreas Pereira splits the Brighton press. This gives Pereira the chance to run at Brighton, unfortunate for Brighton even though Stephens makes a recovery tackle the ball falls to martial. He subsequently plays the ball back to Pereira who has time to shot and a heavy deflection takes it past the Australian international.

Only a couple minutes later the home side doubles their advantage a ball down the line to James forces Dunk to commit as he knows he is not keeping up with James. This brings a foul in a dangerous position in Brighton. Thought the season United have tried to target Maguire from set prices without much success. Nevertheless, a good ball from Fred meant that he was able to win the Knockdown which fell to an unmarked McTominay. Who finished it off.

Two Nil, Two Changes

From the first half, it is clear that Brighton’s tactics have not worked as besides a couple of corners they were not able to trouble United.  This forced Potter. to change things at half time. He decided to put on Glenn Murray and Solly March. This meant they changed to a 3-5-3.

This worked for the first 20 minutes of the second half as more numbers in midfield meant they were able to put pressure on united which resulted in their first good chance. The away side was able to work the ball out wide to March who crosses finds the substitute, Glenn Murray. But it is a poor header from the striker.

Nevertheless, the away side was rewarded with a goal a couple of minutes later as the win a corner on the left-hand side. It has been clear all game that they want to target set-pieces as United chose to mark zonally. They are punished for this as Dunk is easily able to lose his marker and runs into the space that is not being covered. Making it 2-1.

Time to kick on?

Before the Seagulls had any time to look like they might snatch something. United seemed to wake up and work out how to play against the new formation their opponents where playing, as Rashford restores their two-goal advantage just two minutes later

The problem with 3 at the back means there is a greater gap between the centre backs and the wing-backs. This gets exploited by Manchester United as Fred wins the ball in the middle of the park and sees the run of Martial. Despite good defending from Duffy the Frenchman can cut back and find Rashford who fires the ball home.

More for United?

It is safe to say that Rashford finished the game off as it gave United newfound confidence. Like every time they came forward they looked like they would score. Rashford should have put the game beyond any doubt just a few minutes after his goal.

His chance came as Martial came deep into his half looking for the ball. This dragged Duffy with him leaving Brighton very isolated at the back. As all it took was a good pass to Pereira who could play the ball in behind for the pace of James. This left Dunk to deal with both Rashford and James flying forward. If it wasn’t for an awful miss from Rashford it should have been 4-1.

Wrong tactics from Potter

For the rest of the game, it was evident Potter gamble of going with three at the back had not worked as United’s pace was causing them so many problems. With an exciting home crowd, it was surprising it finished 3-1. This example shows that Manchester United was able to get five players in the attack and in the gap between the defence and midfield meaning Brighton only had three players back to defend the attack.


To conclude this tactical analysis, it is a good result for Manchester United as not only does it show what they are capable of but it gets them back to winning ways. Even though they will lose a lot of their players during the international break they can take confidence from this ready for their next fixture away to Sheffield United.

As for Brighton, they didn’t have the quality today to deal with United midfield paring and the pace of the front line was just too much for the defenders. It was a brave decision to change it at half time as it ultimately played into the United’s hands. However, it did give them a way back into the game they were just not able to go from there.

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