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Manchester United are still licking their wounds from Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League exit against Sevilla, but they host Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday in a clash that could boost their spirits.
Two tournament departures in the space of five days would be disastrous for the Red Devils, who will now be looking at the FA Cup as their only realistic hope of silverware remaining this season.
Brighton boss Chris Hughton is also seeking a return to winning ways after Everton ended his side’s seven-match unbeaten streak with a 2-0 Premier League win at Goodison Park last week.
The Seagulls’ only appearance in an FA Cup final came against United in 1983, when they lost 4-0 in a replay result, providing some welcome spice as they look to mimic Sevilla and stage a surprise at Old Trafford.
Date: Saturday, March 17
Time: 7:45 p.m. GMT/3:45 p.m. ET
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester
TV Info: BT Sport 1 (UK), Fox Sports 2 (U.S.)
Paul Pogba returned from injury against Sevilla and came off the bench—as did Juan Mata and Anthony Martial—but was unable to exert much impact on a drab performance from the Red Devils.
One would expect manager Jose Mourinho will reinstall Pogba in his starting lineup considering the importance of Saturday’s clash, although Ally McCoist suggested on BBC 5 live Sport he may not be deserving:
BBC 5 live Sport @5liveSport
‘Steven N’Zonzi ran that game like you’d expect Paul Pogba to’ Ally McCoist wasn’t impressed with the #MUFC midfielder’s performance after coming off the bench. https://t.co/uZMQ1zTbwO #MUNSEV https://t.co/jkdLxZbRah
United have a few longer-term absentees including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Daley Blind, but PhysioRoom.com hinted the Swede is the only one among that number who could be nearing a return to the team:
Martial will return for United on Tuesday while Mourinho looks set to make a late call on Pogba. Herrera, Jones, Blind and Rojo remain out. Ibrahimovic is training with the main group. #MUFC
Anthony Knockaert will serve the first match of a three-game suspension after he was shown a straight red card in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Everton, while Gaetan Bong is a doubt after coming off injured at Goodison.
Midfielder Dale Stephens is in contention to come back into the Brighton lineup after he missed the trip to Merseyside due to a knock. Steve Sidwell and Jiri Skalak have been absent since January with back and ankle injuries, respectively, but both could be in contention to make Saturday’s squad.
Brighton will likely have felt bittersweet about seeing United knocked out of the Champions League on Tuesday. It’s a positive for them that the mood at Old Trafford will be dampened as a result, although it means they’ll now be encountering a United team even more conscious of being ousted from the FA Cup.
The players at Old Trafford will be feeling the pressure to win on Saturday as a result, although Mourinho may have gone slightly too far in the other direction to suggest their European exit was no major deal:
B/R Football @brfootball
Jose goes in hard… on Manchester United 😳 https://t.co/JAgAKLiKvB
Brighton have already travelled to Old Trafford once this season and came away as 1-0 losers due to a Lewis Dunk own goal.
A staunch defence will be critical to the visitors’ chances of success once again at Old Trafford, and The Times‘ George Caulkin has praised the fine work of Hughton after he won the Premier League’s Manager of the Month award for February:
George Caulkin @CaulkinTheTimes
What a brilliant job Chris Hughton has done and continues to do at Brighton. He does it on the quiet – he’s not an egotist & doesn’t court publicity – but as well as being a deeply nice man, he’s a bloody good manager.
He led his side to a record of three wins and one draw from their four matches that month, although all three wins were at the Amex Stadium, while their sole draw came away to Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium.
Brighton beat Middlesbrough 1-0 away in the fifth round to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals, but Old Trafford will require a step up in quality, and football writer Andy Mitten hailed United’s supreme home record despite Tuesday’s loss, via Off The Ball:
Off The Ball @offtheball
“They can’t believe how easy it was to play at Old Trafford, that’s changed a bit under Jose Mourinho” Andy Mitten says United’s home record is far better under Mourinho despite Sevilla loss https://t.co/1B30ZGHB1V
Brighton have been through a good run of late but have won only two away games in the Premier League all term, seeding some doubt as to whether they’ll be able to avoid a second defeat of the season at Old Trafford.
United look likely to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League and are under pressure to win a trophy, but an all-or-nothing Brighton display on Saturday could see them lose a second title shot in the space of a week.