Kaoru Mitoma hopes to cap his breakthrough season by helping Brighton and Hove Albion to make history as the winger sets his sights on Europe – and gaining revenge against Manchester United.
Mitoma, 25, was part of the Albion team beaten by United on penalties at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday 23 April – and beaten by Nottingham Forest in the Premier League three days later.
The high-flying Seagulls recovered their form last Saturday (29 April) to thrash Wolverhampton Wanderers 6-0 at the Amex, with Mitoma coming on as a sub.
The three points from the win over Wolves took Brighton’s points tally to 52, surpassing their Premier League record of 51 points, set last season.
The result has reignited the club’s quest to reach Europe and today fourth-place United face Brighton at Falmer – just 11 days after their semi-final clash.
Mitoma, who made his Brighton debut just last August, said that he was determined to help Albion’s push for a place in Europe.
He said: “Right now it’s important for the team to finish the season as high up the table as possible and aim for a Champions League or Europa League spot.
“If we can reach a higher standard playing this brand of football, I think we will be able to bring the fans even more joy. I want to make them happy and, in order to do so, we want to make history.”
Brighton edged the recent Wembley meeting with Erik ten Hag’s men but were unable to find a breakthrough before Solly March’s penalty miss proved decisive in a painful 7-6 shoot-out loss.
And in eighth place, the Seagulls’ chances of catching United and scraping into the Champions League places are slim as they sit 11 points adrift, albeit with a game in hand.
But a top-five finish remains a distinct possibility going into Albion’s final seven fixtures in a hectic final month of the season. And Albion won 2-1 at Old Trafford in the first match of the Premier League season.
Mitoma, who has scored seven goals and been credited with four assists since his debut, said of the FA Cup exit: “It was a disappointing result, a frustrating result, but we have already switched our focus to the league.
“It’s very important that we win this game as they are our direct rivals in the league table. This will be a really big game for both teams.
“They are a team who is always fighting for the title and the quality of each individual is something that sets them apart from other teams.
“But if we can play to our strengths, we will have a chance to win.”
Head coach Roberto De Zerbi could be absent from the Amex touchline for tonight’s match after cancelling his pre-match press conference yesterday because of illness.
Mitoma was handed his maiden top-flight start by the Italian in Albion’s 4-1 victory over Chelsea in late October and believes he is progressing well.
He said: “The coach demands a lot from me so I’m trying my best to meet them.
“The way he sets up the team and his tactics are helping my performance as it suits my style very well.
“He is very specific about what he wants from me in training and in games.
“I think my standard on the ball and off the ball is improving step by step, so I feel that I’m developing under his coaching.”