Brighton & Hove Albion have faced their fair share of testing away day assignments in the Premier League. They haven’t done too badly either. While nobody will begrudge them a 2-0 defeat away to Arsenal, they have responded with successive victories on the road against West Ham United and Swansea City.
However, Chris Hughton’s men face arguably the most severe examination of their credentials when they face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Their clash with the Red Devils arguably comes at a good time. Brighton are unbeaten in their last five Premier League games and will be facing a United side slightly fatigued from their midweek Champions League exertions in Switzerland, where they lost 1-0 to Basel.
But facing José Mourinho’s United at Old Trafford remains a daunting task. While several of the Premier League’s lower sides took points off Louis van Gaal’s United at Old Trafford, Mourinho has turned the stadium into a fortress once again.
United are now 38 games unbeaten at home in all competitions, winning 27 and drawing 11. Their last defeat in the league at Old Trafford was in September 2016, when Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City won 2-1.
Despite that, though, Hughton will be quietly confident that his Seagulls side can frustrate United and take a point, which would be enough to keep their impressive unbeaten sequence going.
Schelotto Deserves A Chance To Prove Worth
But he’ll need all the help he can get. With United likely to start with either Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford on the left, it leaves Hughton with something to ponder on the right side of the pitch.
With Bruno certain to start at right-back, who Hughton plays ahead of the veteran Spaniard will be crucial to stopping United’s threat on that side.
Although the former Newcastle United manager may be tempted to stick with Anthony Knockaert, there is a case for giving summer signing Ezequiel Schelotto a chance to stake his claim for a starting berth.
The Italy international, primarily a right-back, can also play further up the pitch, so his blend of attacking and defensive qualities may be attractive to Hughton for an examination of this magnitude.
When Brighton signed Schelotto in the summer, Hughton said: “He can also play as a more attacking wing-back and so gives us some good options in defence.”
Maybe now is the time to exercise that option.
Schelotto replaced Knockaert in the 2-2 draw against Stoke City. The Frenchman, who turned 26 on Monday, did not enjoy a happy birthday against the Potters as his threat was nullified by Erik Pieters before being hooked off.
With last season’s Championship Player of the Year struggling to recapture his best form, it may be the right time to bring in Schelotto who, in addition to an excellent surname and rock-star looks, has plenty to offer Brighton.
Schelotto hasn’t started a game for Brighton since joining from Sporting Lisbon but the Argentine-born Italian is renowned for his running. He earned the nickname El Galgo (The Greyhound) when he was making waves in junior football in Argentina because of his pace and the amount of ground he covered. With his tireless work-rate up and down the flank, Schelotto would offer more defensive stability to Knockaert.
In the screenshot above, from Sporting’s clash with rivals Benfica last season, Schelotto proved his defensive capabilities, tracking the run of Franco Cervi, standing his ground before making a perfectly-timed tackle to scoop the ball away from the midfielder.
It may only be a snapshot, but it’s an indicator of Schelotto’s positioning and timing in the tackle, something Hughton may not get from the singularly attacking Knockaert.
Knockaert may pose a greater attacking threat, but the former Leicester City winger has been ineffective and lacking in confidence recently. With Glenn Murray scoring goals, José Izquierdo coming into his own and Pascal Groß doing just about everything, Knockaert is the player most in danger of dropping to the bench.
Although United represents an opportunity for Knockaert to prove his worth in the top-flight, there is a legitimate argument that he hasn’t done enough in recent games to retain his starting berth.
For Sporting last season, Schelotto averaged two tackles and two interceptions per game but also proved a threat going forward, notching five assists.
Considering that he has significantly more experience in the defensive side of the game than Knockaert, Schelotto could be the ideal candidate to double up with Bruno and nullify United’s threat down the left as Brighton look to become the first team to take at least a point away from Old Trafford this season.