Ole Gunnar Solksjaer made it seven wins in seven as interim manager of Manchester United with a 2-1 win at home over Brighton.
Incidentally, Brighton inflicted United’s first defeat of the season back in August, a 3-2 result at the Amex Stadium.
Paul Pogba gave the Red Devils the lead from the penalty spot, after drawing a foul from Albion left back Bong. United dominated possession in the first-half, and Rashford made it 2-0 with a brilliant finish from a tight angle with three minutes to go.
Brighton pushed back in the second-half, and began controlling large parts of the game. Their main goal threat came through set pieces, and eventually, a cross from Davy Propper was prodded home by Pascal Gross.
As the Seagulls pushed men forward in the dying minutes of the game, United dug deep, with Solksjaer bringing Darmian on for Rashford in stoppage time. The win sealed an impressive seven straight win for the Norwegian.
Here are five takeaways from the game at Old Trafford:
Dalot shows his versatility
Luke Shaw was a late withdrawal from the starting XI due to illness, with summer signing Diogo Dalot replacing him.
Everyone expected Dalot to take up Ashley Young’s traditional position on the right, with United’s captain moving over to the left. But Solksjaer sprung a surprise by directly swapping Shaw for Dalot.
Playing in an unfamiliar position for the first time for Manchester United, Dalot showed no signs of discomfort. The 19-year-old held his own against Solly March, and later Anthony Knockaert, and constantly provided an attacking outlet down the flank.
On the few occasions that United fans have seen him in action so far, he has impressed with his constant energy going forward. Once again, he made a brilliant run down the left before setting Rashford up for his goal.
Brighton are no pushovers
Any lingering notions that Brighton would suffer a late season collapse and get embroiled in a relegation dogfight were dispelled by a promising second-half performance. While they didn’t get the result to show for it, Chris Hughton’s men gave the Red Devils a lot of trouble on their own turf.
Once again, their midfield duo of Gross and Propper impressed against technically superior opposition, and Glenn Murray relished the physical battle with United’s centre-backs.
Brighton have only four matches left to play against the top 6 sides. In spite of the loss, they sit seven points ahead of Cardiff in 18th, and it’s hard to see them slacking off from here.
United are still aerially vulnerable
While the match against Tottenham proved that they still need a commanding voice at the back, Brighton exposed another weakness of United’s defence – their aerial vulnerability.
It’s quite baffling when you think about it, especially considering the height and physicality that United possess throughout the squad. Brighton rarely troubled De Gea today, but on the rare occasions that they did, it was through crosses, corners and set pieces.
Solksjaer will definitely view this as something to work on the training pitch. Had they come up against a defensively superior opponent, they would have found it difficult to come away with all 3 points.
Rashford marks his milestone with a goal
It was a special day for Marcus Rashford – his 150th appearance for United – and he marked the occasion with a fantastic goal.
He troubled Brighton’s midfield and defence throughout the game, linking up well with Martial, Lingard and Pogba, and generally making a nuisance of himself. He’s been subjected to some harsh criticism over the last couple of seasons, but Solksjaer’s advice and coaching have turned him into a truly lethal goalscorer.
He also scored his 8th Premier League goal of the season – which is already the best ever return of his short career. Having scored for the fourth league game running, it’s hard to see Romelu Lukaku dislodging him from the starting XI anytime soon.
Top 4 is a realistic target
With Arsenal and Chelsea starting to slip up, and United slowly gathering momentum, the top four is now a very achievable target for Solksjaer and co.
It’s almost unbelievable that United were 11 points behind the Champions League spots when Mourinho was sacked. That difference is now just three points after Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Chelsea at the Emirates tonight.
With every passing week, Solksjaer is emerging as a strong candidate to take over the reins at Old Trafford permanently. Attacking football is back, and the players are enjoying themselves once again.
Tougher tests await against PSG in the Champions League, which will be followed by a visit from Liverpool towards the end of February. Those games will be the toughest challenge of Solksjaer’s tactical acumen, and will go a long way in deciding the club’s managerial future.