Football Features

Man Utd 3-1 Brighton: Five things learned as Anthony Martial reinforces central claim

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:56, 10 November 2019

Manchester United ran out 3-1 winners against Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford in the Premier League this afternoon.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men put last weekend’s disappointing 1-0 loss at Bournemouth behind them by turning on the style in a welcomed victory at The Theatre of Dreams.

It was anything but dreamy for the Seagulls who suffered yet another loss on the road, but they did manage to find the back of the net, Lewis Dunk scoring after Andreas Pereira and a Davy Propper own goal had put the hosts in the driving seat.

Marcus Rashford was also on target as the Red Devils gave their under-pressure boss some breathing room ahead of the latest international break.

With the dust settling, here are five things we learned from this encounter.

1. Williams announces himself

There’s no question which area of the field Solskjaer wanted Man Utd to strengthen in during the summer transfer window. The acquisitions of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, who superseded Virgil van Dijk as the world’s most expensive defender, very much confirmed that the Norwegian believes possessing a strong rearguard is the difference between success and failure.

One position seemingly not up for grabs was the left-back berth with Luke Shaw holding that role down. However, injuries are never far away concerning the former Southampton man and in recent weeks Ashley Young had been filling in. But that was not the case today as the veteran winger-cum-full-back was serving a suspension.

In his place came the highly thought of teenager Brandon Williams who made his first Premier League start. His manager dubbed this game a “good test” for the 19-year-old and it’s fair to say he passed it with flying colours. Encouraged by the Old Trafford faithful, Williams performed his duties like a seasoned pro, completing one take-on and winning four tackles (two fewer than the aforementioned Wan-Bissaka).

Such a performance will reassure Solskjaer as well as putting some doubt in the minds of Shaw and Young, both of whom know a young and hungry footballer is breathing down their necks.

2. A strange feeling

Man Utd starving for goals in the Premier League era is unheard of. Particularly at home. But these are different times with the Red Devils expected to go seven years without a championship after this season. A big reason why is goals being at a premium; before this afternoon’s game they registered just eight goals across their last four home league outings with half of those coming in that speculator 4-0 win over Chelsea on the opening weekend.

Solskjaer’s men have not shown any vim and vigour. That is until now. Scoring twice in the opening 30 minutes is something the Old Trafford faithful have not witnessed since beating Swansea 2-0 in March 2018 – on that day Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were the scorers – it laid the foundations for Man Utd to go on a 27-game streak before ending this poor trend unbefitting of a club which historically encourages attacking football.

3. Martial the difference maker

It’s no surprise that Man Utd look a different side with Anthony Martial on the pitch. Today marked his first Old Trafford start in the league since that disappointing 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace earlier this season. His all-round play might not always be rewarded, but there aren’t many at Solskjaer’s disposal who can offer what he brings to the table.

Martial’s main asset is his blistering pace which enables him to seamlessly transition into many positions during the course of a game as well as be an outlet when the Red Devils spring a counter-attack.

The latter came into play for their opening goal, the Frenchman combining with Pereira to put the hosts in front, the fact he’s an outlet – when leading the line – makes their attacking play that less predictable. Brighton simply couldn’t live with his movement.

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4. Away day blues

Brighton & Hove Albion look a tidy outfit under Graham Potter, who can expect a lengthy managerial reign unless he’s snatched away by a so-called bigger fish. However, what’s troubling them of late is something which often befalls clubs operating at a similar same level and that’s contrasting performances at home and on the road. Brighton have won their last three Premier League games at the Amex: scoring eight times and conceding two goals.

Away from their fortress it couldn’t be any more different. This loss is a fourth defeat in five away trips (the other being a goalless draw at Newcastle United). Starting set-piece maestro Pascal Gross on the bench was a curious selection, especially when he made an immediate impact once introduced in the second half.

5. The good and the ugly from Rashford

Rashford, as many have pointed out – including former boss Jose Mourinho, can no longer be considered an upcoming prospect. Despite recently turning 22, he’s got more than 100 appearances for the Red Devils under his belt, and the Mancunian remains a fixed part of Solskjaer’s team as he is capable of playing in a variety of roles.

This afternoon saw the England international fielded in a wide berth with Martial playing through the middle, though both often interchanged positions, and they combined for Man Utd’s third of the game.

Moments later Rashford, whose finishing has come under scrutiny, simply had to make it 4-1 but his effort – in front of an effectively open goal – was shockingly dragged wide, leading to bemused faces and groans from the terraces. He’s still developing but unless he rectifies this area of his game then Rashford’s chances of becoming a true great will be slim.