Reaction as Manchester United get back to winning ways in the league.
So, first, the cause for caution.
It was only United’s second win in six league games. Brighton have done very well since getting promoted, they are a competitive team as we have found out a few times. Still, at Old Trafford, it was a game the hosts were expected to win, and, going on historical reputation, one they’re expected to win comfortably.
It was a welcome surprise that they comfortably did deal with the first half, with the sort of routine and unfussy display that has seemed so hard to come by. That it was a reminder of what was once normal was perhaps the most pleasing thing about it.
The issue remains whether United are capable of following this with another and another and another. The evidence has to be assessed over a run of 9 or 10 games, and even then, you want to see it for longer.
A welcome indication of how things might go came after the Brighton goal; United were almost stung into action and proceeded to play their best football of the game.
James in particular was excellent, thrilling the lively Old Trafford crowd whenever he got into space. Not since Ronaldo or Ryan Giggs have United had a wide man who possesses such ability to terrify a defender in this way; James has all the raw tools to become a great, because he is exactly the type of player United supporters take to their hearts. I noted a couple of weeks ago that my biggest concern is that he plays with such bravery that he often gets roughhoused. I still do wince when some defenders go into challenge him; he attacks with such speed that I fear the damage an injury would do. Thankfully, James does not appear dogged by this concern, yet.
It was probably ironic that the best football was dogged with some profligacy as United were unable to make it the 5 or 6 which would have really been an emphatic statement. Still — though the McTominay injury did leave a black mark on the day — it felt like a really uplifting way to head into the international break.
VAR, incident 40001876
Andy Gray for beIN Sport accurately summarised the Maguire ‘handball’ incident in the second goal, by saying a year ago we wouldn’t have even thought about it, but now, we’re looking for the most obscure reason to disallow a goal. It’s against the spirit of the game.
Coming less than 24 hours after one of the most ridiculous VAR decisions yet which cost Sheffield United, we have to surely come to some sort of greater decision about the interference this hindrance is having on the game.
Williams the brave
So let us assess Brandon Williams, who played fearlessly, aggressively and positively. It was an outstanding full league debut to provide the most emphatic statement as per the argument whether or not he should be the starting player. Forget Ashley Young, Luke Shaw is going to have to up his game, because this was arguably the best performance by a player in this position all year.
Fred and McTominay continued to impress as a partnership. Despite Brighton not being brilliant, and despite it not exactly being Keane versus Juventus standards, Fred probably put in his most confident performance as a United player.
Is it enough to say United will not need to upgrade? Not quite. But it is enough to consider that when and if Paul Pogba decides to play for the club again, he won’t be asked to play in this area. Maybe that will be best all round, but it is actually more damning about Pogba’s passive qualities than it is compliment about his playmaking ability.
Likewise, Pereira; on his 50th appearance for the club, he scored a goal (albeit heavily deflected) and then disappointed by being so easily shrugged off for the Brighton goal. He showed fine character to bounce back from that and was instantly positively involved for the third goal which killed the game off.
If we are assessing the performance not on whether Pereira is a long-term starter for the club, but rather whether or not he could be a useful squad player, then this was at least a very positive step in the right direction, so long as some reason is applied.