Manchester United have gone from being serial winners to serial underachievers over the last decade or so. They used to be ever presents when it came to mounting a title challenge, but these days they find themselves battling to finish in the top four, and many are unsure whether they will be able to secure a Champions League spot between now and May.
From looking at the current standings in the Premier League, you'd say that United have an excellent chance. Yes, they’re in fifth, but they’re only one point behind West Ham in fourth and have a game in hand. However, the teams below them have multiple games in hand on them and West Ham, so the upcoming fixture against Brighton is crucial.
Brighton are an outfit many will suggest are overachieving this season under the guidance of Graham Potter. They’re ninth, but they rarely lose games. What they have become good at is being difficult to beat, which could spell trouble for United at Old Trafford. If you look at recent results, the Seagulls have avoided defeat against the likes of Chelsea and Leicester. But, they have also shown that they can secure wins against sides you expect them to beat, such as your Watford's and Brentford's.
You jump back over to United’s recent form, and while they have lost just once in their last twelve league outings, they have been way short, especially against teams that you would expect a side challenging for the top four to put away. Their last five results have seen a defeat against Wolves, draws with Villa, Burnley and Southampton, and a narrow victory against West Ham.
Against a miserly Brighton outfit, who will head to Old Trafford with no fear, something which the Theatre of Dreams used to strike into the heart’s of visitors, United are going to have to be at their very best. Potter’s men will look to keep the ball and make United work for it as a team, something which has been lacking from their game for a while.
And Brighton will pose their own questions. Both Southampton and Burnley have shown that Ralf Rangnick’s side can be got at, and when the chances to press and probe arrive, they will duly take them. So it’s going to be another acid test, not just of United’s top four credentials, but of the work the German coach has done with his team since arriving in December.
It didn’t used to be, but a victory where United look convincing against Brighton would be a statement. More so because of how respected the Seagulls and Potter are. And, with a couple of winnable games on the horizon against Leeds and Watford, it will stand them in good stead for their top-four push. But, another drab performance and result to boot would see them lose yet more ground, with the teams around them ready to step in.