Are Manchester United good again? This 3-0 victory away to Brighton and Hove Albion was certainly another near-faultless display by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, following on from last week’s authoritative win over Sheffield United by the same scoreline, and extended their unbeaten run to 15 games across all competitions.
Even before Mason Greenwood’s superbly taken opening goal, United played with a swagger, style and assurance that suggested they would take all three points and climb above Wolverhampton Wanderers into what could yet be the all-important fifth-place position.
Bruno Fernandes, the catalyst for their resurgence since his arrival in January, added the two other goals. If United’s second was slightly fortunate, the third was sublime, with Fernandes finishing a rapier-like counter-attack that represented everything Solskjaer wants to see from his players.
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Brighton will lick their wounds and hope for a better result at Carrow Road in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off. The four points gained against Arsenal and Leicester City have given Graham Potter’s side something of a cushion above the relegation zone, though beating bottom side Norwich would go a long way towards securing safety.
United’s resurgence is in part down to Solskjaer moving closer towards a settled first-choice line-up. Only two questions appear to remain: who partners Pogba at the base of midfield and who plays on the right? The second of those was answered at the Amex in just over quarter-of-an-hour.
While Daniel James requires space to break in behind the opposition, Greenwood has dexterity and technique to both take defenders on and, crucially, beat them. After turning away from Dale Stephens and stepping inside from the right, a pair of stepovers bamboozled Lewis Dunk and created the space for a left-footed finish inside the near post.
It was an example of why Solskjaer began his first full season in charge at Old Trafford describing the 18-year-old as his squad’s most natural finisher. Greenwood had only made four appearances then. He has played 39 times since and scored 13 goals, suggesting he – alongside Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial – is the future of this forward line.
That trio will be particularly prolific with the likes of Fernandes and Pogba feeding the bullets, but the two combined for United’s second. Luke Shaw – excellent when marauding out from left-back – saw a low cross deflect to the edge of the area. Pogba laid a simple pass to his left and Fernandes
The goal perhaps should not have counted. The ball appeared to run out of play for a Brighton throw-in in the build-up, with Greenwood failing to keep it inside the touchline, but that went unnoticed by the assistant referee on that side and the vast majority of the Brighton players. And if Potter could feel aggrieved by that goal, he could have few complaints about the next.
Remember Cristiano Ronaldo, Park Ji-Sung and Wayne Rooney combining to score United’s third goal at the Emirates in the Champions League semi-finals 11 years ago? This did not have the same satisfying ending of the player who started the move also finishing it, but it was arguably just as spectacular.
From Harry Maguire winning a header on the edge of his own area, Nemanja Matic chested the ball down and lobbed an exquisite through pass out to the left. Greenwood took up possession, bursting at pace to the edge of the area then clipping a cross to the far post for Fernandes, who volleyed into the floor past goalkeeper Mat Ryan.
This was United’s first league outing since Liverpool’s 30-year wait for a domestic title ended last Thursday. Some at Old Trafford will have wondered when their next title will arrive while watching the jubilant scenes outside Anfield, but performances like these – and goals like the third – will ease fears that their own wait will go on so long.
Curiously, 31 games in, this is still United’s lowest points tally at this stage of any Premier League season. That shows just how poor results were before this unbeaten run, particularly during the late autumn and early winter. Yet the fact that comes as such a surprise shows the progress that has been made over the last few months. United, finally, might be on the right track.