Brighton secures Europa League spot after 1-1 draw with Man City
From the AMEX Stadium – Brighton secured their best-ever finish of sixth in the Premier League and automatic Europa League qualification as Julio Enciso’s stunner earned the Seagulls a 1-1 draw against champions Manchester City on Wednesday night.
City opened the scoring when Phil Foden arrived to finish off a break led by Erling Haaland before Paraguayan youngster Enciso equalised with a wonderful strike from outside the area.
Both managers made changes reflecting their heavy fixture lists. Roberto De Zerbi left Alexis Mac Allister and club captain Lewis Dunk on the bench, while Stefan Ortega featured in goal for the visitors, with Rico Lewis also deployed. There were also starts for Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva in a strong Pep Guardiola XI.
Haaland had the game’s best early chance, placing his header over the top after Foden had swivelled and put the ball on a plate with his cross to the back post. Brighton earned a corner when Danny Welbeck’s shot was blocked after nice interplay with Julio Enciso. Ilkay Gundogan was then caught on the edge of the area but Billy Gilmour could only scuff his shot at goal.
Guardiola bigged Brighton and De Zerbi up pre-match, calling the Italian ‘one of the most influential managers in the last 20 years’, and there were few moments of calm as the two enterprising sides traded quality chances.
Welbeck struck the woodwork with a curled free-kick from distance before Haaland raced through the middle at the other end, just being put off enough by Jan Paul van Hecke to scupper his one-v-one.
That mattered little, however, as City took the lead.
Haaland popped the ball off and chased after it again from Riyad Mahrez’s through pass. The Norwegian committed Jason Steele and then teed up Foden, whose strike deflected off Van Hecke on the line and in.
Brighton thought they’d clawed level from a corner when Kaoru Mitoma bundled it in at the back post but he used his hands. The hosts and their fans were clamouring for an equaliser and it came from their latest South American gem.
Enciso was allowed room from distance and he strode forward unopposed, sending a ferocious effort which whistled towards the top corner to evoke recent memories of his stunner at Stamford Bridge.
Welbeck saw an offside finish ruled out before Foden’s header at the back stick clipped the bar before referee Simon Hooper called time on an enthralling first half.
Ilkay Gundugan had a shot deflected just wide before the two managers turned to their benches, with Evan Ferguson and Mac Allister joining the action while Cole Palmer replaced goalscorer Foden.
Ferguson soon had his first sight of goal, capitalising on a failed clearance to test Ortega at the near post, though the game reached a lull around the hour mark. While the first half was brilliant, frantic football, the second period saw a number of players catch their breath with fewer scoring opportunities.
The AMEX let out a groan of disbelief when Pervis Estupinan struck on the half volley from distance, his effort just straightening at the last minute to take it away from the top corner.
Substitute Cole Palmer drove down the left and clipped in for Haaland to nod in what looked like the winner with ten minutes to go, but the gigantic striker had it chalked off for a shirt tug.
No winner could be found, leaving Brighton safely in sixth, four points ahead of Aston Villa who they visit on Sunday. City conclude their league title defence with a trip to Brentford.
Brighton player ratings (4-2-3-1)
Enciso strikes Brighton’s equaliser / Clive Rose/GettyImages
GK: Jason Steele – 7/10 – Denied Haaland with a couple of smart saves, dictating play to the striker well.
RB: Pascal Gross – 7/10 – Bought time in defence with his silky dribbling and opened City with some glorious passes from out wide.
CB: Jan Paul van Hecke – 7/10 – Pulled out a Cruyff turn in his own box under pressure early on. Happy walking forward in possession and emerged from his tussle with Haaland in one piece.
CB: Levi Colwill – 8/10 – Grabbed one of the easiest assists of his young career for Enciso’s strike. Did well shepherding Van Hecke through the game.
LB: Pervis Estupinan – 7/10 – Almost gave Brighton the lead with a howitzer from distance. Sent some dangerous deliveries in.
CM: Moises Caicedo – 7/10 – Didn’t give City’s midfielders time on the ball.
CM: Billy Gilmour – 7/10 – Continues to look at ease in Brighton’s midfield alongside Caicedo, bursting forward well. Has to improve his final shot.
RW: Facundo Buonanotte – 7/10 – Tip-toed his way past City defenders before having a crack which was saved.
AM: Julio Enciso – 8/10 – Linked up nicely with Welbeck in tight spaces before firing an absolute screamer. Off early into the second half.
LW: Kaoru Mitoma – 7/10 – Bundled the ball into the back of the net but was adjudged to have used his hand.
ST: Danny Welbeck – 7/10 – Struck the woodwork from a free kick. Pressed relentlessly, making some good opportunities for Brighton.
Evan Ferguson (52′ for Enciso) – 6/10
Alexis Mac Allister (52′ for Gilmour) – 6/10
Deniz Undav (75′ for Welbeck) – 5/10
Joel Veltman (75′ for Buonanotte) – 5/10
Subs not used: Cameron Peupion, Yasin Ayari, Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk, Thomas McGill
Roberto De Zerbi – 7/10 – Continues to work wonders with all players in his squad, with players like Van Hecke and Buonanotte faring well in the face of extreme quality.
Manchester City player ratings (4-3-3)
Foden put City ahead / GLYN KIRK/GettyImages
GK: Stefan Ortega – 8/10 – Played chicken in possession early on and got away with one sliding clearance under pressure from Caicedo.
RB: Kyle Walker – 7/10 – Whenever City looked vulnerable, Walker was invariably there thanks to his speed putting Brighton attackers off.
CB: John Stones – 6/10 – A bit slow to close down back in a more usual centre back role.
CB: Rodri – 6/10 – Dropped into defence and was occasionally loose with his passing.
LB: Rico Lewis – 7/10 – Pretty much played in central midfield in possession, using his quick feet to great effect.
CM: Bernardo Silva – 6/10 – Dropped in at centre midfield and went out wide in a rather positionless role. Booked for hauling down Enciso on the break.
CM: Ilkay Gundogan – 6/10 – The goal threat from recent weeks wasn’t present at the AMEX but still glided around, if a little rushed at points.
CM: Kevin De Bruyne – 6/10 – Got in stride on occasion but had to deal with good harrying from Caicedo and GIlmour before being subbed early.
RW: Riyad Mahrez – 7/10 – Lovely ball through the middle led to the opener. Helped out in defence as Brighton enjoyed spells of pressure.
ST: Erling Haaland – 6/10 – Missed a couple of opportunities he usually gobbles up but did give Foden a goal when he could have shot himself. Had a header disallowed.
LW: Phil Foden – 8/10 – Wonderful poise and balance in possession. Not the greatest finish but completed the job from Haaland’s pass. Evening understandably finished early.
Cole Palmer (50′ for Foden) – 7/10
Julian Alvarez (56′ for De Bruyne) – 6/10
Sergio Gomez (83′ for Stones) – N/A
Kalvin Phillips (83′ for Silva) – N/A
Subs not used: Ederson, Shea Charles, Nico O’Reily,, Alex Robertson, Ben Knight
Pep Guardiola – 6/10 – Deployed a strong team in appreciation of Brighton. Intensity wasn’t as high as it has been in recent weeks but every player came through unscathed.
Player of the Match – Phil Foden (Manchester City