Manchester United have beaten Brighton and Hove Albion in the semifinals of the FA Cup, producing a proper treat for the city of Manchester as they prepare to battle it out against Manchester City in the final.
The game ended goalless, after 90 as well as the additional 30 minutes, and luck favoured the 20-time English champions as Brighton’s Solly March missed the target from the spot in the seventh round, before Victor Lindelof took advantage of that to end the shootout.
United defensively better without Maguire
Harry Maguire arrived to Old Trafford from Leicester City in 2019 for £80 million and became the world’s most expensive defender, overshadowing Liverpool’s purchase of Virgil van Dijk 18 months earlier. Maguire was supposed to be United’s answer to their arch-rivals obtaining the services of such a formidable defender, but he hasn’t come anywhere near to making an impact like the Netherlands captain, even though he’s been trusted with the club armband. Now it’s come to the point where he’s being ridiculed by rival supporters, and his frequent, ridiculous mistakes keep costing his team.
Maguire’s performance against Sevilla in the second leg of their clash in the Europa League quarter finals on Thursday was particularly woeful, and it was no surprise that the England international was dropped for this match, despite both Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane being absent through injuries. His place in the back line was taken by left-back Luke Shaw, and right-back Diogo Dalot shifted to the left while Aaron Wan-Bissaka played on the right.
Maguire’s contract with Manchester United does not expire before 2025 and the club has the option to extend the deal by further 12 months, but the fact that united looked much better at the back with Shaw in his place will have cast further doubt on his future with the club.
The four players who started at the back in this match did extremely well to stifle Brighton’s inspired attackers, especially Victor Lindelof who made his powerful presence felt.
With the summer transfer window approaching fast, it might be a good idea for the 30-year-old to consider his options, though it remains to be seen if any club that could tempt him away from Old Trafford appears with an offer.
Be that as it may, it seems the best outcome for both parties would be to part ways.
United’s back four have already been listed, with David De Gea behind their backs. Casemiro and Christian Eriksen were tasked with deeper midfield roles, while the trio of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Antony supporter Anthony Martial as the striker.
Meanwhile, Robert Sanchez stood in goal for Roberto De Zerbi’s team, with Adam Webster and Lewis Dunk flanked by Pascal Gross and Pervis Estupinan at the back. The in-demand duo of Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister were in the middle of the park, with the pacey trio of Solly March, Julio Enciso and Kaoru Mitoma arranged just behind former United striker Danny Welbeck.
With Brighton proving every week that their great results in the Premier League are no fluke, United opted for a rather defensive approach to the game at Wembley, mostly dropping back to defend and allowing the Seagulls a total of 61% of possession. They were, however, quick to hit on the counterattack and took the same total of shots as their opponents – 15. Six of them went on target while Brighton had five.
Brighton consequently attempted more passes, 643 with an accuracy of 83%, compared to United’s 412 of which 71% found the right man.
Both teams had their chances to take the lead at various points of the contest, but things never really worked out for Rashford, Antony or Martial, while United’s back line really did very well to repel the attacking force of Mitoma, March and Enciso, as well as Welbeck.
The draw was in the end a fair result, and even though a penalty shootout is rarely anyone’s choice to settle a contest, there was obviously no other way in the end.
March ended up being the villain for his team and he obviously felt terrible about it, but nobody who ever felt under that kind of pressure to deliver in any aspect of life will hold it against him.
The Manchester Derby at Wembley
Everything is now ready for the Manchester Derby to take place for the third time this season, though the first played in North London, and for it to decide which team will take the trophy home.
The previous two meetings between City and United ended in different ways, with the duo of Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland destroying United in a 6-3 triumph at the Etihad, and Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes overturning Jack Grealish’s goal at Old Trafford to bring victory to United.
Nonetheless, looking at the way the two teams have been playing in the last couple of weeks, the feeling that City are strong favourites to win is overwhelming. Let’s see if Erik ten Hag and his men can cook something up to stop them again and win their second cup trophy of the season.
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