Kaoru Mitoma hopes to cap a fine breakthrough season by helping Brighton make history as he sets his sights on gaining revenge against Manchester United.
The high-flying Seagulls surpassed their Premier League points record by moving on to 52 with Saturday’s 6-0 thrashing of Wolves, which reignited the club’s quest to reach Europe.
Fourth-placed United travel to the south coast just 11 days after inflicting an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat on Albion in the FA Cup semi-final.
Japan winger Mitoma only made his Brighton debut in August but has rapidly enhanced his reputation this term with seven goals and four assists during a string of standout performances.
The 25-year-old, who spent last season on loan at Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise, is determined to further aid the Seagulls’ push to secure continental qualification for the first time.
“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,” he said.
“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 miss proved decisive in a painful 7-6 shoot-out loss.
The eighth-placed Seagulls’ chances of catching United and scraping into the Champions League spots are extremely slim as they sit 11 points adrift, albeit with a game in hand.
Yet a top-five finish remains a distinct possibility going into Albion’s final seven fixtures in a hectic last month of the campaign.
Mitoma, who began the hammering of Wolves on the bench after being rested by boss Roberto De Zerbi, is confident Brighton can complete a league double over United following a 2-1 Old Trafford win on the first weekend of the season.
“It was a disappointing result, a frustrating result, but we have already switched our focus to the league,” he said of the semi-final setback.
“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 De Zerbi could be absent from the Amex Stadium touchline for Thursday evening’s game after cancelling his pre-match press conference on Wednesday due to 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.
“The coach demands a lot from me, so I’m trying my best to meet them,” he said.
“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.”