Manchester United 2-1 Brighton & Hove Albion
Games like this matter.
Interim Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made that abundantly clear before kick-off when he said: “Now we are expected to entertain and dominate, and sometimes these are the games you really need to step up for.”
It was the Norwegian’s way of saying that no Premier League matches are a given and that there is no room for complacency if you want to be successful.
Solskjaer, winner of six Premier League titles as a player, knew that better than most as a spirited Brighton arrived at Old Trafford.
Highlights of the game
There was a late change to the team sheet when Luke Shaw fell ill during the warm-up and was replaced by Diogo Dalot. Surprisingly to this observer, the young Portuguese full-back actually started left-back rather than Ashley Young switching from right to left.
Once the action got going, both sides showed attacking intent.
Jurgen Locadia’s weak shot called David de Gea into action, and Marcus Rashford saw a shot cleared off the line by Shane Duffy.
There was a suggestion United were just starting to up the tempo midway through the first half when Paul Pogba saw an overhead kick deflected for a corner before Marcus Rashford saw his curling effort bend narrowly off target.
The breakthrough arrived in the 25th minute.
A diagonal ball from Nemanja Matic was controlled expertly by Paul Pogba who was fouled by Gaetan Bong in the penalty area. Referee Paul Tierney pointed to the spot, and the Frenchman converted emphatically from 12 yards.
It was odd to hear a few groans as the Frenchman stepped up – fans remembering his penalty against Everton earlier in the season which he scored at the second attempt, somewhat fortuitously.
Yet there was no doubting his accuracy on this occasion as he scored his eighth league goal of the campaign – five have been in the past month.
To their credit, Brighton were keeping home chances to a premium and threatening themselves.
It took some dogged defending to keep them out while Glenn Murray lashed a half-volley wide when he may have done better.
They were on top when United scored their second three minutes before the break with a goal which is one of the Premier League 2019 highlights.
Dalot found his fellow youngster who had plenty to do, but his close control and trickery was a joy to watch before he found the top corner beyond a helpless David Button.
It was quite a way to mark his 150th appearance for the club.
The Seagulls had won the two most recent encounters with United (1-0 and 3-2 home triumphs in May and August last year).
However, despite not playing badly, they were suddenly up against it even more as they tried to become the first team to win three consecutive league games against a redemption-seeking United since Swansea in 2014 and 2015.
With Ander Herrera tireless and Rashford and Anthony Martial a constant threat, United looked to add to their tally after the break with the latter beating two defenders with arrogant ease before firing just too high.
Rashford then burst past Pascal Gross, but Jesse Lingard fired wide when it looked like he would score before Victor Lindelof flashed a header across goal.
Gross brought Brighton back into the game with 19 minutes remaining with a smart finish after he was allowed too much time following a superb ball into the danger zone with the outside of his foot from David Propper.
It was yet another goal which showed United’s defensive deficiencies that blighted their first half of the campaign have not disappeared.
It was also a goal which gave the visitors belief and the game was briefly end-to-end as the away fans chanted ‘we’re going to score in a minute’. They certainly caused the home side some nervous moments in the closing stages.
Fixtures like this, of course, will not define Brighton’s season. Ask any us pundit, and they will tell you Chris Hughton is working a minor miracle on the south coast.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates his seventh victory for Manchester United
Solskjaer knows bigger tests await too and the Premier League 2019 betting odds on them securing a top-four finish are still a big ask.
But in becoming the first manager to win his first six league games in charge of the club, he can do no more than he has so far.
United have never lost at home to Brighton (won nine, drawn two).
Solskjær has equalled the longest Premier League winning streak by a manager from the beginning of his reign at a club: six by Carlo Ancelotti for Chelsea in 2009 and Pep Guardiola for Manchester City in 2016.
Pogba has been directly involved in more than half of United’s 17 Premier League goals since Solskjaer took charge with five goals and four assists.
With six goals and five assists, Rashford has been directly involved in 11 goals in his last 10 league appearances.
Gross has scored in his last three games against United.
United have secured six consecutive Premier League victories for the first time since January 2017.
Since winning 3-2 at Man City on the final day of the 2012-13 season with Norwich City, Brighton manager Hughton has lost his last 15 away matches against the ‘big six’ in all competitions by an aggregate score of 4-43.
Brighton have lost a Premier League-high 20 away games since the start of last season.
Hughton has lost all six away matches as a manager against United by an aggregate scoreline of 1-16.
Murray has gone eight Premier League appearances without a goal, his longest barren run for Brighton in the division.Top of Form
It’s FA Cup fourth-round action for both sides.
United travel to Arsenal in the tie of the round next Friday (January 25), while Brighton entertain West Brom the following day.
They then complete their January schedule on the 29th when Brighton travel to strugglers Fulham and United host Burnley.
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