Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described Manchester United’s 3-1 win over Brighton as “their best performance of the season”.
Midfielder Andreas Pereira and striker Marcus Rashford scored either side of a Davy Propper own goal to give United their biggest home Premier League triumph since August and move them into seventh place, their highest position for two months.
Rashford should have had another but inexplicably fired Daniel James’ cross wide of an open goal.
Brighton keeper Mat Ryan saved from James and Brazilian midfielder Fred, before denying what would have been a memorable solo effort from Anthony Martial.
Solskjaer added: “It was exhilarating and entertaining. How we didn’t end up with five, six or seven I don’t know.”
After their 3-0 win over Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League on Thursday, it was the first time United had scored six in two games since March and extended a run of five wins in six games in all competitions since a 1-1 draw with Liverpool.
“If we don’t get confidence from this, I don’t know what to tell them,” added Solskjaer.
The victory came at a cost, though, as midfielder Scott McTominay had to be carried down the tunnel on a stretcher after falling awkwardly and will have a scan on his injured ankle on Monday.
It was a familiar story for Brighton, who have never won at Old Trafford and never looked like breaking that sequence and allowed Rashford to restore the hosts’ two-goal cushion two minutes after Lewis Dunk’s header had given them hope.
Ole’s faith in youth
Two years ago, respective managers Solskjaer and Graham Potter were operating in very different surroundings.
Solskjaer had been managing Molde against Kristiansund in the Norwegian League, while Potter was competing in Sweden’s equivalent for Ostersunds FK against Jonkopings Sodra.
Potter has been having a better time of it than Solskjaer this season but amid a number of disappointing results, the United boss was getting credit for the number of youngsters he has put his faith in this season.
Today was another example, with a side that with an average age of 23 years and 350 days was United’s youngest since a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace in May 2017.
With skipper Ashley Young suspended, Solskjaer picked 19-year-old Brandon Williams for his full Premier League debut rather than rely on the experience of Marcos Rojo, who had performed well in Thursday’s Europa League win against Partizan Belgrade.
Williams’ presence meant Harry Maguire’s selection as skipper ahead of David de Gea was almost overlooked. The standing ovation the youngster received at the end proof Solskjaer had been right with his choice.
Brazilian midfielder Fred has been heavily criticised since his £47m move from Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer of 2018.
Many have questioned whether he has the ability to be a United player and there has been suggestions former manager Jose Mourinho only agreed to his arrival because he was desperate for midfield reinforcements and feared if Fred did not move to Old Trafford, he would get no-one.
Even Solskjaer has seemed uncertain about Fred’s capabilities.
Yet, almost from nowhere, he has turned into a central figure.
For the first time for United, he has started five successive Premier League games and this performance – efficient and energetic – was one of his best.
It was Fred who gently coaxed teenager Williams forward in the early moments of his first top-flight start. It was Fred who found midfield partner McTominay with an impudent back-heeled pass and Fred who sought advice from coach Kieran McKenna during a break in play, showing that his grasp of English is better than some would have you believe.
He might have had his first goal of the season too had Brighton keeper Ryan not fumbled his long-range shot onto the bar after half-time.
Brighton still find the ‘big six’ tough
Inside the Brighton camp, they feel strongly that the decision to sack Chris Hughton at the end of last season has been vindicated, even if it was criticised externally.
Potter has installed a passing game which is more fluid and better to watch than what went before.
In the whole of 2018-19, they managed 216 sequences of 10 or more passes, an average of 5.7 per game. Before their trip to Old Trafford, they had already registered 119 such sequences this season, an average of 10.8 per match and taking them from 17th to seventh best in the division in that particular metric.
Yet points are the only real currency in the harsh arena of Premier League combat and, for Brighton, trips to the ‘big six’ remain a problem. They face high-flying Leicester next, but will do so without Dunk, who will be suspended following his fifth booking of the season.
Under Hughton, 11 such visits over the past two seasons ended in defeat – a single draw at Arsenal on 5 May breaking the sequence. So far this term, it’s three defeats from visits to Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, and only a single goal to show for Brighton’s efforts.
This failure meant Brighton were unable to claim the victory that would have taken them fifth, a position which would have represented the highest spot they had occupied in their history.
Man of the match – Fred (Manchester United)
‘A joy to watch’ – managers’ reactions
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “We should have scored many more goals.
“It was an excellent performance from the lads, when you see them going forward it is a joy to watch.
“Anthony Martial did not get a goal but he was outstanding. Brandon Williams was excellent too – he has had some good games already and he seems he wants to be out there and enjoy himself.
“The table does not really matter at the moment, we need to keep improving and keep winning games and see where it takes us.”
Brighton manager Graham Potter: “They deserved to win the game, if you make any mistake they can turn defence into attack so quickly.
“The players gave their best, but sometimes you have to accept you are playing against a better team. We had a decent period in the league and now we need to get ready for another tough match.
“They key moment for us was when we went 2-1 down despite not being much in the game, if we could have kept that score for longer it could have made a difference but United responded scoring the third goal so early in transition.”
Home comforts for United – the stats
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last seven games at Old Trafford across all competitions (W4 D3 L0), their longest run under the same manager since March 2018, when they went eight without defeat under Jose Mourinho.
- Brighton haven’t won any of their 15 Premier League away games against “big six” opposition (W0 D1 L14), scoring just four goals and conceding 33 in return.
- Davy Propper’s own goal saw Manchester United take a 2-0 lead in the 19th minute (18:50); the quickest they’ve been 2-0 up in a Premier League game at Old Trafford since May 2017 against Crystal Palace (18:15).
- Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Brighton have scored more own goals than any other team in the Premier League (7).
- Marcus Rashford scored his 30th goal for Manchester United at Old Trafford, with six of those having come in 2019-20 – only in 2017-18 has he netted more home goals in a single season for the club (nine).
- Manchester United forward Anthony Martial has been directly involved in eight goals in his last 10 starts at Old Trafford across all competitions, scoring four and providing four assists.
- Brandon Williams became only the second player born in the 2000s to start a Premier League match for Manchester United, following Mason Greenwood.
Brighton’s next game is against top-four contenders Leicester City at Amex Stadium on 23 November (15:00 GMT). Manchester United play at Sheffield United the following day (16:30 GMT).