Bruno Fernandes stars as Manchester United beat Brighton to keep Champions League hopes alive

Paul Hayward
The Telegraph
Bruno Fernandes celebrates scoring for Manchester United - GETTY IMAGES
Bruno Fernandes celebrates scoring for Manchester United - GETTY IMAGES

To call Bruno Fernandes a transformative signing on the Eric Cantona level might be premature, but he was just what Manchester United needed: the right kind of player at the right time, with infectious ability and self-belief.

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There were glimpses here of a new, dynamic, exciting United side in the making and Fernandes is central to the revival.  Two goals for the club’s £67m January signing offered yet more evidence that ‘Bruno’ is one of those catalyst acquisitions who help a struggling team find purpose and rhythm, two qualities United have too often lacked. Fernandes is also a ‘platform’ player who helps others flourish.

Of all the United youngsters who will benefit from Fernandes’ influence, Mason Greenwood is making arguably the fastest progress. Greenwood needs no warnings from his manager about new strikers maybe coming in. This superbly promising 18-year-old would take some shifting by any recruit. His first half-goal here featured quick feet, close control and rapier intent, and his pass for Fernandes’ second was perfect. His ceaseless roaming and speed of thought have added an edge to a United side who used to advance clunkily and with no clear pattern of play.

United had won only four of their 15 league away fixtures this season and had not taken all three points in the top-tier at Brighton since 1982 in the old First Division - but were domineering from the start. With Harry Maguire free to play from the back under no pressure Paul Pogba rapidly finding his range and United’s three young counter-attackers tormenting Brighton’s defence, United were 2-0 up within half an hour - a miskicked goal by Fernandes complementing Greenwood’s dash away from Dale Stephens in the 16th minute and sharp, cold finish.

United’s 49 points from 31 games was their lowest since 1990-91, so the heat was on them to finish this summer festival with a flourish. They sensed vulnerability in an experimental Brighton side and used the first-half for passing practice.

Brighton returned with energy and renewed commitment to beat Arsenal at home and take a point off Leicester at the King Power Stadiums. The Seagulls sought a win that would have taken them nine points clear of the relegation zone but found United a much tougher proposition. Solskjaer’s men, unbeaten in 15 games in all competitions, have now kept eight clean sheets in 13 league games and are two points off a Champions League place.

Premier League 2019/20 latest standings (top six)

Solskjaer discarded most of the FA Cup team who made it through to the semi-finals at the weekend and restored the big names, led by the potential dream midfield combination of Bruno and Pogba - as well as the three young attackers to whom the manager delivered such an unexpected warning on the eve of this match.

With only 48 goals in 31 Premier League fixtures, Solskjaer said, the team might need another finisher next season. It sounded mischievous. Fourteen league goals each for Rashford and Martial was respectable with seven games left but Solskjaer is evidently keen to maintain creative tension in his squad.

Brighton meanwhile were without Adam Webster who injured a hamstring at Leicester and took a chance up front with Aaron Connolly, 20, who had not scored since 5 October, while the leading scorer, Neal Maupay, started on the bench.

Graham Potter, who said he wanted to utilise Connolly’s “pace,” also gave a second league start in midfield to Alexis MacAllister, a 21-year-old who has played twice for Argentina. The biggest test of MacAllister’s club career was to cope with the craft and experience of Bruno and Pogba and he found it hard going. Tariq Lamptey, who made such a striking Brighton debut at Leicester, retained his place but this time at right midfield. Even with two right-backs Brighton struggled to deal with United’s relentless incursions and the ease with which they moved the ball.

Brighton needed to change, and at half-time Potter brought on Maupay and Leandro Trossard. United were unimpressed, striking again for Fernandes’s second, after Matic had hooked a long ball to Greenwood who raced up Brighton’s right-flank and crossed to the team’s new unofficial  leader, who cracked it past Maty Ryan, who was partly blamed for United’s second.

Trossard, though, made a difference, shooting narrowly wide from the left and connecting well with Connolly, who finally gave David de Gea something to do in the 68th minute, with a long-range hit the United keeper needed to go airborne to keep out.

But if United can maintain this form, the restart could be remembered as a turning point, with signs of promise piling up, and their fans relieved that they are once again fun to watch.

09:45 PM

The one and only Paul Hayward

You might not be aware but Paul Hayward is leaving Telegraph Sport later this/next month after several years of being the best writer we have - certainly of sport, if not more - to work on a book. 

If I am ever able to write a single article/blog/paragraph that is as well written, constructed, informed and considered as anything and everything he seems to file for this paper, I would consider myself improved beyond all recognition. It won't happen. He's next level and I feel hugely privileged to share a byline with him on this liveblog. The man is lovely, brilliant at what he does and will be warmly missed. I'm sure you'll join me in wishing him good luck for the future.

09:39 PM

Graham Potter says Man Utd were just better

We played against a really good side tonight to be honest. We stuck at it, our response was good and maybe deserved a goal. I'm proud of the response. The better team won.

We wanted to step on the game a little and got killed on the counter-attack. We had some good opportunities, some good play, against Manchester Untied you're always on the stretch. A tough evening and one we'll improve from.

They're as good as anyone we've played this year from our perspective. It's hard to contain, we didn't go under, carried on, and second half was positive.

09:34 PM

Solskjaer post-match interview

Full of confidence and full of quality. The boys played some exceptional stuff, it's always hard to play against Brighton. They keep the ball well and press well. We just waited for the moment to get the goal and Mason's first was brilliant.

On Mason Greenwood:

He's a special kid. We know when he gets faced up and looking forward he's dangerous but his whole play, link up play was great. He's developing into a fine player. 

What does this say to the league?

I don't care about any statement. I know we're a good team, we just focus on this game, look to the next one. Great to get the 3-0 early so I can take Bruno and Luke off. That worked out well.

09:17 PM

Mason Greenwood is brilliant

But don't take my word for it, take Mike McGrath's, who believes that Greenwood may just save United millions in the transfer market. Why buy Jadon Sancho and deny Greenwood his right forward position?

09:13 PM

Some match facts for you

  • Manchester United extended their unbeaten run to 15 matches across all competitions (W11 D4); only Bayern Munich (25 games) are currently on a longer such 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 (1-4 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).

  • Bruno 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 has 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 Mason Greenwood's opener was his fourth in the Premier League for Manchester United (29th app); one more than he provided in 42 league games for former club Crystal Palace.

09:08 PM

FULL TIME

Superb performance from Man Utd. It's not perfect yet but with Pogba and Fernandes, and some clear training-ground passing guidance, they have worked out how to beat low-block teams. And when you add that to their strength on the counter-attack, everything's looking quite promising. 

09:06 PM

90 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

This will be Man Utd's first win in Brighton since 1982 apparently, which sounds strange until you consider how horribly medium they've been for about seven years.

09:02 PM

88 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

James has a couple of shots at the near post saved easily by Ryan, the kind of situation that he really needs to become more dangerous from. This game has a strong 'first to three wins' at 5-a-side feeling about it.

09:00 PM

85 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

I really like Bissouma as a player. A few clubs could do with a midfielder as committed, determined and willing to throw his body at stuff. Arsenal are one of them. He can play too, to be clear. 

United are playing another little tidy passing move when all of a sudden McTominay smashes a volley from 25 yards which comes off Bernardo and deflects towards the goalie. Without that touch I think it might have flown in.

08:56 PM

82 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Bernardo and Mooy on for Mac Allister and Dunk.

08:55 PM

81 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

James and Ighalo on.

Bissouma has just defended a cross from the wing in a way which redefines 'ball control'. I can confirm that those hurt. Not immediately... but very soon after.

08:53 PM

78 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Brighton are getting some joy out of United's defence. Ever since Pogba and Fernandes went off, or Pereira and McTominay came on, there has been no defensive cover for the centre-backs and that's a real problem. It changes how they have to play. 

Rashford has gone to centre-forward, Martial wide left, Pereira attacking midfield. Pereira's position makes all the difference - by playing a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 4-3-3 which becomes a 4-2-3-1, Pereira is denying United an extra body in the midfield. I wonder if that's where Brighton are now finding space.

08:50 PM

76 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Good defending by Matic, who covers for his centre-backs as they are almost split by a through-ball towards Connolly. He read the play well there - Lindelof was beaten.

08:49 PM

73 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Martial hasn't really had a chance to do anything with the ball near goal but that doesn't mean he hasn't played well. Just by playing off the shoulder of the last man and pushing the defence back he's creating space for others but I can absolutely see why United would look for a centre forward who has his back to goal, links play and wins headers.

08:45 PM

70 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Matic is tackled, wants a foul and won't get it, and Brighton have a rare chance to attack in the middle of the pitch. Connolly takes the ball on the half turn outside the area, sets up the shot and bends it top corner. De Gea dives and comfortably palms it over the bar.

08:43 PM

68 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Another line-splitting pass, United have numbers forward and Greenwood drives. Wan-Bissaka takes over, beats his man and crosses into the area for WILLIAMS! Headed off a defender and out. 

The corner comes to nothing and then the music comes on because the bar is shut. 

Wait, apparently this means there's another water break.

08:40 PM

66 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Pereira, McTominay, Williams on.

Pogba, Fernandes, Shaw off.

08:39 PM

64 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Pogba hits a pass inside but gives Brighton the chance to counter and United have to correct their defensive shape quickly. Shaw covers, the ball goes past him... and Fernandes is in position to clean up the mess on the edge of the box. Great play.

08:35 PM

61 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Clever move! A free-kick is disguised as a cross and fired as a low ball into the box. Trossard controls well on the half turn, sets up the shot and powers a low one towards the far post. De Gea would have been beaten if it had been on target. 

08:34 PM

59 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Brighton put a nice little move together as Lindelof is caught miles out of position but Connolly just doesn't have the ability (this time) in the final third to find a teammate in space over the other side of the box. That's the difference that quality players make.

08:31 PM

56 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

That's more superb passing play by United. Pass and move football, always an option, taking the risky option but executing it perfectly. Needs a lot of confidence, but when that exists, it makes all the hard work and organisation that Brighton are showing redundant. They aren't doing anything wrong with their press or positioning.

08:28 PM

53 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 3

Rashford is taking up quite central positions from a left wing starting point now. Fernandes is on the right wing too, it's as though they're matching up to Brighton's shape. I'm not in the stadium so it's quite hard to tell from the TV angle. Wan-Bissaka and Shaw have been so important to this performance tonight.

08:26 PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!

Wow. What a goal. Maguire heads the free-kick away, Matic starts the counter-attack with that stunning blind-pass. Greenwood drives to the box, crosses to Fernandes and he hits a brilliant volley into the ground and then the back of the net. And that's the direct consequence of opening up and trying to attack against a team like United!

 

08:25 PM

50 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 2

Shaw is booked for a foul on Bissouma. The free-kick is headed away, Fernandes tries to chase it out, Matic hits an absolute worldy of a pass.... like an unbelievable volley and UNITED ARE IN HERE!

08:24 PM

48 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 2

Brighton appear to be a more attacking outfit now, which makes sense. It was a 4-4-2 diamond in the first half but might be a 4-2-2-2 now, with the two wide midfielders playing more advanced and centrally than the wingers in the first half.

08:21 PM

KICK OFF 2

We're back.

08:21 PM

Changes at halftime

Well, Potter's obviously not too pleased with how his team hasn't turned up yet. Maupay and Trossard on, Lamptey and Propper off.

08:11 PM

Mason Greenwood is also very good

 

08:06 PM

Bruno Fernandes is quite good

  • 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 (9 - 5 goals, 4 assists).

08:05 PM

HALF TIME

Montoya absolutely wipes out Rashford as punishment for being nutmegged following a three minute long United passing move.  "That's exactly what I would have done," says Gary Neville.

08:03 PM

45 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 2

United forwards all combine in the final third but can't quite carve an opening. Martial doesn't take a shot when he has a chance... and Brighton are able to counter until Greenwood chases back again and takes Connolly out. I'm surprised that's not a yellow card.

The free-kick is worked to the opposite wing, hooked in to the far post and Pogba defends against three bodies, doing just enough to put Burn off and deny a close-range header.

08:00 PM

42 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 2

Great play by Greenwood. He gives a pass away and bursts himself to correct it, chasing the ball back 30 yards and stealing it. Pogba fires a superb line-splitting pass to Fernandes, who goes to Rashford, they slow things down, the move fizzles out. Some of United's passing has been excellent. Really progressive, taking them forward 40 yards at a time rather than going sideways and getting caught.

07:57 PM

40 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 2

De Gea goes long this time, Man Utd win the battle once the ball pings around a bit, and Rashford doesn't wrap his foot around a shot he wants to fly top corner and punts it over the bar.

07:55 PM

37 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 2

This is absolutely brilliant play by United to evade the Brighton press. Potter has set his team up really well to prevent them getting up the pitch but United are brave in possession and understand the importance of their relative positions. As soon as a pass is made, another cog in the machine has scuttled into space to ensure the ball can be moved on. Nobody is receiving a pass under pressure without an easy option.

07:52 PM

35 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 2

Bit of controversy (yes, it's VAR) about that second goal. The ball had gone out of play in the build-up but Greenwood kept it going by the touchline. VAR isn't allowed to intervene for that, apparently. Looks pretty blatant and the assistant referee was right there too. I'm glad technology has fixed all of our problems.

07:50 PM

33 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 2

It's difficult to tell whether Brighton aren't playing well or United have just figured out how to break down teams that sit and defend all game. Gary Neville seems convinced that they need to sort themselves out. To me it just looks like United are simply a way better team, as in they have much better players. The danger for United would have been if they didn't take this game seriously but plainly they absolutely are.

07:47 PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!!

FERNANDES SCORES!

Brighton 0 Man Utd 2

Shaw makes a run behind the defence, Brighton are in trouble and nowhere near, the ball is fired across the box and Pogba takes charge. He holds off the defence and lays off Fernandes for a shot outside the area, which deflects into the corner.

07:46 PM

29 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 1

Pogba threads a pass through the lines, Greenwood takes it on the half turn and United move towards goal. 

United have had 68.1 per cent of the possession and already scored. Brighton's strategy hasn't failed yet and they'll have to open up later in the game if they can keep things to 1-0 for a good while. A change in about minute 60 might make sense.

07:43 PM

26 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 1

Fernandes hits a corner to the far post and Maguire is there to head it, but cushions his effort wide. 

And now it's time for a water break, even though apparently it's quite cold down in Brighton. The managers even have jackets on. 

07:40 PM

23 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 1

Fernandes puts too much on his kick and lifts it over the bar. He's angry with himself about wasting that chance.

07:38 PM

20 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 1

It's taken United quite a long time to figure out how to break down teams sat in a low block against them but they seem to have managed it. Brighton aren't in the game yet but have set up to be super defensive. A change of mentality might be needed.

Pogba has won a free-kick on the edge of the area.

07:34 PM

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!

GREENWOOD SCORES!

Brighton 0 Man Utd 1

Brilliant play by the young forward. Wan-Bissaka forces a pass through the lines to Greenwood, who has a little half yard of space, takes on his man and uses step-overs to open up the shot. That shot is beamed low into the bottom corner.

07:34 PM

16 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 0

Brighton are dropping into pyramid shaped back six when United have possession in their half. 

Shaw makes a clever run in behind, jogging to position before acceleration all of a sudden, looking uninterested and then suddenly dangerous in the snap of some fingers. 

07:32 PM

15 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 0

Rashford turns Stephens inside out with a fake shot then turns back towards the wing and eventually goes down while under close attention from the Brighton man. Honestly, I could see why that's a penalty. Rashford's been put off balance, is clipped ever so slightly and isn't able to cross the ball. Equally, it would be so soft and he was definitely looking for it. 

But isn't it still a foul if he's fouled? The only thing I know for certain about refereeing is that I will never be able to do it.

07:30 PM

13 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 0

Connolly politely tells the linesman to "f*** off!" as he penalised for... shielding the ball? I'm not sure what that's a foul for again. Lindelof was basically trying to haunt him like a cartoon ghost, right up on his back inside the box...

I think it might have been handball.

FERNANDES HITS THE POST! This boy loves a shot. Greenwood does well to twist and turn, Pogba sets up the shot from 25 yards and he hits it low off the upright.

07:28 PM

11 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 0

Matic has just been caught on the ball in a really dangerous situation, and Brighton are raging with the referee that he blows for a foul as they have a three v two near the United box. I'm not sure that was a foul. It just looked like it should be one.

Brighton's high press causing a few problems for United's build-up play at the moment.

07:25 PM

8 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 0

Playing full-backs/wing-backs as wide midfielders seems to be helping Brighton with pressing United close to their own goal. They're sharp and quick to close players down, and since United tend to go goalkeeper to centre-back to full-back, they can just block the pass inside by covering Matic and close down the man on the ball. United coping with it well at the moment.

07:23 PM

6 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 0

Brighton's strategy is clear. Absorb pressure, frustrate... and then look for Connolly beyond the defence with a long pass up to him. Harry Maguire has just made a total mess of a really simple bit of control, chesting a high pass directly to Connolly rather than Lindelof. Nothing comes of the free-kick that results from it.

07:21 PM

3 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 0

Ooooohhhh great play. Rashford and Shaw play a one-two, the full-back gets wide of the box and crosses low inside for Martial, who controls on the spin but is tackled immediately after. This is a positive start from United, Brighton are going to be busy tonight by the looks of things.

07:19 PM

2 mins - Brighton 0 Man Utd 0

Energetic start from United, lots of running and some nice little combinations between the forwards. Brighton have started in what looks like a 4-4-2, which I think will fall into a five and a six at times as the wide midfielders drop back. Montoya and Lamptey will tuck in when needed, or just provide strong protection in wide areas. 

07:18 PM

KICK OFF

Here we go! United start the game. Everyone takes the knee for BLM as the referee blows his whistle.

07:12 PM

Here come the players

Patrice Evra reckons this game is "a trap", where the big team rocks up expecting to breeze to victory but ends up in a much tougher battle than they'd maybe anticipated. 

07:01 PM

Graham Potter on his approach today

Purely tactical, using Aaron's pace. Neal can help us off the bench.

I've reminded them they're good players, they need to work hard for a result. We have to work hard from the start, play well, you need a bit of luck against the big teams.

06:45 PM

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pre-match

We're through in the cup so we're happy, this is the same team that played less than a week ago so it's not unfamiliar. We played well against Sheffield United so let's hope we do again.

We've been here the last two years and not taken any points. We know it's going to be hard and we have to focus on one game at a time.

06:39 PM

United players arrive

Victor Lindelof of Manchester United arrives ahead of the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester United - GETTY IMAGES
Victor Lindelof of Manchester United arrives ahead of the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester United - GETTY IMAGES

Never ones to miss a chance to make a bit of cash, United have their players all modelling (responsibly wearing) branded face masks  as they arrive off the bus. It's cautious, a good choice, and profitable. Harmony.

06:29 PM

We have a winner

They're not playing tonight but you may be aware that Liverpool recently finally won the league (again). We discussed it in this week's Audio Football Club podcast, focusing on what happens next and where they go from here.

Audio Football Club podcast 29/06/20
Audio Football Club podcast 29/06/20

Inevitably, there is talk of how Sir Alex Ferguson rebuilt his famous teams. Brighton aren't mentioned though. So. Sorry about that, Brighton fans!

06:18 PM

Starting lineups

And there are the teams. In my opinion, that is Man Utd's absolute best team they could possibly put out. Brighton are having to shift the starting XI about a bit, Maupay a notable benched player.

06:05 PM

The games keep on coming

Evening all, welcome (back) to another Premier League weeknight game, this time featuring Manchester United and Brighton, two teams you will already probably have seen play rather a few games since those in charge allowed the return of football to England.

And what a game it promises to be! Maybe. Certainly the second half... but anyway, yes, this will be a lovely game of football. Brighton are basically safe, but not quite because they only have a six point gap on the relegation zone, and Man Utd could realistically qualify for the Champions League like they're supposed to... but not quite, because Chelsea keep winning games. The pressure needs to be kept up. If Manchester City are banned from Europe then all this effort may really pay off. Here's what the table looks like:

United made plenty of changes to their team for the FA Cup win over Norwich on the weekend so will likely put most of those missing back in the starting XI tonight. Squad rotation is absolutely key but so is keeping momentum, something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team is riding at the moment.

It's a tough task made all the more difficult in Graham Potter's mind by the absence of a home crowd.

“My own personal view is that home advantage is significantly dropped because of the crowd," he said this week. "The crowd not being here is the main thing, the main advantage and that would have been nice for us, especially against the top teams.

“The crowd can come and realise that you are the underdog and forgive you for quite a few things because you are playing against the top teams.

"I think most teams would have wanted to play at their home grounds from a logistics perspective and an organisation perspective.”

Kick off is 8:15pm and the game is being broadcast by Sky Sports, so you can either follow the action with us for all the updates you need, or utilise this liveblog as your viewing friend. Lots of live analysis throughout.

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