Player Ratings, Reaction and Highlights : Brighton 2-3 Manchester United

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Manchester United won at Brighton in dramatic circumstances; Bruno Fernandes scored a late penalty after it had initially appeared as though the referee had blown for full time. It was a crucial three points, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will know his team were not at their best again.

United were still lethargic, in spite of all that has been written and spoken about their defeat to Crystal Palace. That should take nothing away from Brighton, who hit the post twice and struck the crossbar before they finally got their deserved lead.

That came in the 33rd minute after a tale of two right-backs. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was struggling and was caught with the ball; from the resulting phase of play, Tariq Lamptey burst into the box and was felled by Bruno Fernandes. No complaint – and Maupay’s panenka had the touch of class that would make even the spot-kick memorable. The forward celebrated by pretending to cry; his boastfulness would come back to haunt him.

United were soon level. Trossard – who’d earlier hit the post with a screamer – conceded a free-kick. Fernandes struck a great delivery from the free-kick, similar to a cross earlier in the game. Matic was at the back post and Lewis Dunk, under pressure from Maguire, deflected the ball into his own net.

1-1 at half-time, with the best moment from United coming in a disallowed goal when Martial showed a brilliant shift of feet and Greenwood eventually finished off – but Rashford, who provided the assist, was offside.

The second half began at a breathless pace. A minute into it Paul Pogba was adjudged to have given away a penalty on Connolly. At all times the Frenchman was resisting the physical aspect of the challenge aside from a very light brush at the start of the passage of play. It was – rightly – overturned.

Rashford had the ball in the net but was offside again; and soon after, he was released on the left and beat Ben White twice before powering the ball in. It was deflected on the way in but clearly Rashford’s goal – a just reward for exceptional play.

Paul Pogba was substituted again after another below-par display, although perhaps he has been feeling the effects of recently being ill more powerfully than we appreciate. United were looking to tighten up with that change but Trossard thundered another effort against the woodwork.

So, Solskjaer responded by replacing Greenwood with Bailly, and Martial with van de Beek. Still, Brighton pushed and still, Trossard was the main man – he had an effort in injury time that De Gea did wonderfully to stop. You had to feel for the Brighton forward who just did not have luck on his side.

But his team appeared to. The defensive reshuffle had seen Lindelof move to the left, Maguire in the middle and Bailly on the right, and none of them were anywhere near Solly March, nor was Aaron Wan-Bissaka. March levelled. 2-2 deep in stoppage time.

But the drama was not over. United had a corner and Harry Maguire’s header was headed off the line by March – but only after it was deflected there by Maupay’s hand. The referee had blown for full-time but was forced to check VAR and awarded the penalty.

Bruno Fernandes stepped up and despatched the penalty with some conviction. Three points scarcely deserved, but three points nonetheless.

Jacks

Ah, the fluid, ever-changing world of football and the fickle finger of the football fan (and I am guilty as much as anyone of this). Remember (I know you don’t want to) how we all used to complain that there were too many players who had too many roles under Van Gaal? And how Mourinho had gone on about ‘specialists’ and for a while that seemed like a good idea?

Well what we currently seem to have is a collection of one-dimensional players and that in itself isn’t an issue. If you listen to the Talking Devils podcast you might be familiar with United legend Paul Parker talking about having the responsibility of a ‘man and a half’. Perhaps it’s understandable that because of the criticism that comes when a player makes an error. But, you sacrifice too often the reward that comes with risk. Players eventually play it safe. And they never seek to do anything different.

So Paul Pogba giving the ball away in a dangerous area four years ago might have been something you would expect him to personally eliminate with experience. Not so. You might expect Luke Shaw to work on his crossing in the same way Aaron Wan-Bissaka did last season. He hasn’t and he’s still first choice. So what’s the incentive for Wan-Bissaka when the usual answers you would give to such a rhetorical don’t seem to apply?

Yes, there are questions over the owners and questions over the manager but sometimes you wonder about the desire or capability of some to improve.

The exception of course is Marcus Rashford who continues to strive to be better. He is an example on and off the pitch.

Selection

Solskjaer has generally had a pass at every stage either because of what he inherited or the way the composition of the squad has been impacted by the incomings and outgoings. By that it should be clarified – he has been told, as have we all, constantly, that the previous stockpiling of centre-halves is the reason we aren’t bringing one in. Not for the first time it seems hollow and hypocritical when looking at the departures from the forward line and no serious recruitment there, or even just in the numbers games when you look at all the senior players allowed to leave.

Still, even with all those caveats, Solskjaer made a big call within the parameters that are in place when he chose to recall Victor Lindelof after many felt Eric Bailly was a certainty to play.

It’s a cautious, political game. Play Bailly and Solskjaer is suggesting there is enough from within to get by. Play Lindelof and you risk repeats of what we’ve seen before.

In midfield Nemanja Matic was selected with van de Beek on the bench. It was the sensible option with the Serbian’s experience crucial.

The defensive changes and the repositioning did nothing to inspire the sort of confidence and composure the manager had hoped. As ever with this United team, the more defenders there are on the pitch, the more opportunity there is of one of them to make an error. The late equaliser was yet another of those where you don’t point a finger at any individual player but look at the collective and shake your head in disbelief in concern. United got out of jail – but the same old problems continue to show that nobody is fooled that it’s a step forward.

Ratings :

De Gea 7

Wan-Bissaka 5

Lindelof 6

Maguire 6

Shaw 5

Matic 7

Fernandes 7

Pogba 5

Greenwood 6

Martial 5

Rashford 7

Subs :

Fred 5

Bailly 5

van de Beek

Wayne Barton

Wayne is a writer and producer. His numerous books on Manchester United include the authorised biography of Jimmy Murphy. He wrote and produced the BT Sport film 'Too Good To Go Down'. In 2015 he was described by the Independent as the 'leading writer on Manchester United' and former club chairman Martin Edwards has described him as 'the pre-eminent writer on the club'.

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