Manchester United brushed Brighton aside with a vibrant all-round display as their pursuit of a Champions League place gathered further momentum.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side totally dominated the contest at the Amex Stadium and extended their unbeaten run to 15 games to move up to fifth in the Premier League, two points adrift of Chelsea.
Teenager Mason Greenwood bamboozled Seagulls defender Lewis Dunk with quick footwork and drilled in an accurate opener for the visitors.
United were ruthless in the final third as midfield playmaker Bruno Fernandes, who was highly impressive once again, netted via a deflection, then volleyed in to finish a swift counter-attack.
Brighton did pose some threat in the second half but David de Gea made a flying save to deny Aaron Connolly as Graham Potter’s side remain in 15th place, six points above the relegation zone.
United taking shape under Solskjaer
United will have looked enviously at rivals Liverpool and the job Jurgen Klopp has done as they ended their 30-year wait for a top-flight title by winning the Premier League for the first time – their previous titles coming back in the old First Division days.
It has already been seven years since United won the last of their 20 league titles but the long rebuild job has started to show signs of taking shape under club legend Solskjaer.
The Red Devils struggled with slow and structured football under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, but showcased a free-flowing brand of football on the south coast on Tuesday.
United pressed with poise, attacked with pace and finished with precision – they have now scored 38 goals during their 15-game unbeaten run and conceded just four goals.
Teenager Greenwood took his tally to 13 for the campaign with a crisp finish at the near post but it is the January signing of Fernandes that seems to have rejuvenated the side, with the former Sporting Lisbon player having contributing five goals and three assists since his arrival.
Fernandes’ second goal – his side’s third – was a throwback to United teams of old, the Portuguese smashing in Greenwood’s chipped cross to complete a devastating counter-attack. And he could have had a hat-trick, but struck the foot of the post.
Alongside Fernandes, French World Cup winner Paul Pogba eased back into action following a long injury lay-off and caressed the ball around the pitch, while Nemanja Matic expertly patrolled the centre of the park.
United were outstanding going forward but their performance at the back will be pleasing too, staying largely untroubled and keeping the eighth clean sheet from their past 13 top-flight games.
The Old Trafford side won only one of their last seven games last season to finish sixth but can be confident in the run-in this term with games against strugglers Bournemouth, Aston Villa and West Ham coming up, and a chance to collect silverware in the FA Cup and Europa League too.
United sit fifth but it could be enough to gain entry into the Champions League next season as rivals Manchester City await the fate of their appeal for a two-year ban from the competition.
Back to the drawing board for Brighton
Brighton have been in good form since the restart, having won once and drawn twice, and had won their previous three top-flight games against United – but they were well beaten on this occasion.
With six games remaining, they will still be nervously looking over their shoulders at the five teams behind them, but showed glimpses that suggest they should be able to claw themselves away from danger.
Leandro Trossard made an impact after coming on in the second half, flashing two shots wide with De Gea rooted to the spot, and the United goalkeeper had to react sharply to keep out Connolly’s curling strike and Neal Maupay’s drive.
Brighton face a huge game against bottom-of-the-table Norwich on Saturday, knowing victory will give them some breathing space before hosting champions Liverpool and second-placed Manchester City in their following fixtures.
‘99% is not enough’ – what they said
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to BBC Sport: “The players have reason to be confident because they are playing fantastically. There is quality in that team, our players are fit and we have competition for places now.
“We know Mason Greenwood can score goals like this but he is getting stronger, lockdown helped him. He had time to fill out and you can see the benefit from it. He will be exciting to follow.
“I’ve got more than one game-changer. We have some top players and Bruno has come and been fantastic. He has brought that winning mentality with him, that 99% is not good enough – it has to be 100%.”
Brighton boss Graham Potter to Sky Sports: “We played against a really good side tonight. Manchester United were the better team and they had some quality. Our response in the second half was really good and maybe deserved a goal but the better team won. I am proud of how the players stuck at it and kept going.
“We got killed on the counter attack for the third goal but we had some good play but against United you are always on the stretch. It is a tough evening for us but one we will take a lot from and learn from it.
“We always look at ourselves to try to improve and they are as good as anyone we have played this year. It is hard to contain but a positive performance in the second half.”
Man of the match – Bruno Fernandes (Man Utd)
Brighton travel to Norwich on Saturday (kick-off 12:30 BST), while United host Bournemouth on the same day (15:00).
Fantastic Fernandes – the stats
- Manchester United extended their unbeaten run to 15 matches across all competitions (W11 D4); only Bayern Munich (25 games) are currently on a longer streak without defeat among all sides in Europe’s big-five leagues.
- Brighton have won fewer Premier League games in 2020 than any other side (P13 W1 D7 L5).
- This was Brighton’s biggest home league defeat of the season, with their last Premier League loss by a three-goal margin at the Amex coming on the final day of the 2018-19 campaign (4-1 v Man City)
- Manchester United have kept more clean sheets in their last 13 league games (eight) than they managed in their first 40 under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær (seven).
- Manchester United completed a league double over Brighton for the first time since the 1981-82 campaign, with tonight their first away win over the Seagulls since April 1982.
- Mason Greenwood’s six goals for Man Utd in 2019-20 is the most by a player aged 18 or younger in a single Premier League season since Wayne Rooney scored nine for Everton in 2003-04.
- Since his debut for Manchester United in February, Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in more goals in all competitions than any other Premier League player (10 – six goals, four assists).
- Fernandes has been directly involved in eight goals in his first eight league games for Man Utd (five goals, three assists) – only Robin van Persie had more goal involvements (nine) after as many games at the start of his Premier League career with the club.
- Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s assist for Greenwood’s opener was his fourth in the Premier League for Manchester United (29th appearance); one more than he provided in 42 league games for former club Crystal Palace.