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Flawless Fernandes provides perfect 'platform' for United's young guns to prosper

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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.

Two goals for the club's £67m January signing offered yet more evidence that 'Bruno' is one of those catalyst players who help a struggling team find purpose and rhythm, two qualities United have too often lacked in the last seven years.

Fernandes is also a 'platform' player who helps others flourish. He needed only 63 minutes to break Brighton before United, 3-0 in front, sent on a trio of substitutes to see the night out.

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 catching by any recruit. His first-half goal 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.

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Mathew Ryan can do little to stop Manchester United's Mason Greenwood scoring their first goal of the game. Photo: Mike Hewitt/NMC Pool/PA Wire

PA

Mathew Ryan can do little to stop Manchester United's Mason Greenwood scoring their first goal of the game. Photo: Mike Hewitt/NMC Pool/PA Wire

With Harry Maguire free to play under no pressure from the back, 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 Bruno Fernandes complementing Greenwood's dash away from Dale Stephens and sharp, cold finish in the 16th minute.

United's 49 points from 31 games was their lowest since 1990-'91, so the heat is 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.

Unlike Watford, Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich, Brighton returned with high energy and renewed commitment to beat Arsenal at home and take a point off Leicester at the King Power.

The Seagulls sought a win that would take them nine points clear of the relegation zone but found United a much tougher proposition. Solskjaer's men, unbeaten in 14 games in all competitions, were aiming to overtake Wolves in fifth and move two points behind Chelsea in the Champions League places.

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Paul Pogba keeps possession despite the efforts of Brighton and Hove Albion's Dan Burn. Photo: Andy Rain/NMC Pool/PA Wire

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Paul Pogba keeps possession despite the efforts of Brighton and Hove Albion's Dan Burn. Photo: Andy Rain/NMC Pool/PA Wire

To that end Solskjaer discarded most of the FA Cup team who made it through to the semi-finals 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 October 5. Leading scorer, Neal Maupay, started on the bench.

Brighton struggled to deal with United's relentless incursions and the ease with which they moved the ball. At half-time, they brought on Maupay and Leandro Trossard.

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Brighton's Alexis MacAllister goes down under the challenge from Harry Maguire. Photo: Andy Rain/NMC Pool/PA Wire

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Brighton's Alexis MacAllister goes down under the challenge from Harry Maguire. Photo: Andy Rain/NMC Pool/PA Wire

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 Portuguese leader, who cracked it past Maty Ryan.

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 'keeper needed to go airborne to stop.

But if United can maintain this form, the restart could be a turning point in which signs of a promising future became visible. With Fernandes and Pogba shaping the play, Rashford, Martial and Greenwood can develop into an attacking trident all teams will fear. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk




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