stars as Manchester United beat Brighton to keep Champions League hopes alive
There were glimpses here of a new, dynamic, exciting United side in the making and Fernandes is central to the revival. Two goals for the club’s £67m January signing offered yet more evidence that ‘Bruno’ is one of those catalyst acquisitions who help a struggling team find purpose and rhythm, two qualities United have too often lacked. Fernandes is also a ‘platform’ player who helps others flourish.
Of all the United youngsters who will benefit from Fernandes’ influence, Mason Greenwood is making arguably the fastest progress. Greenwood needs no warnings from his manager about new strikers maybe coming in. This superbly promising 18-year-old would take some shifting by any recruit. His first half-goal here featured quick feet, close control and rapier intent, and his pass for Fernandes’ second was perfect. His ceaseless roaming and speed of thought have added an edge to a United side who used to advance clunkily and with no clear pattern of play.
United had won only four of their 15 league away fixtures this season and had not taken all three points in the top-tier at Brighton since 1982 in the old First Division - but were domineering from the start. With Harry Maguire free to play from the back under no pressure Paul Pogba rapidly finding his range and United’s three young counter-attackers tormenting Brighton’s defence, United were 2-0 up within half an hour - a miskicked goal by Fernandes complementing Greenwood’s dash away from Dale Stephens in the 16th minute and sharp, cold finish.
United’s 49 points from 31 games was their lowest since 1990-91, so the heat was on them to finish this summer festival with a flourish. They sensed vulnerability in an experimental Brighton side and used the first-half for passing practice.
Brighton returned with energy and renewed commitment to beat Arsenal at home and take a point off Leicester at the King Power Stadiums. The Seagulls sought a win that would have taken them nine points clear of the relegation zone but found United a much tougher proposition. Solskjaer’s men, unbeaten in 15 games in all competitions, have now kept eight clean sheets in 13 league games and are two points off a Champions League place.