Rashford’s step forward
Marcus Rashford took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to show his anger once again at child food poverty and this time he signed off with a message to his many critics, who have told him to “stick to the football” in recent weeks.
Rashford will never just stick to the football and the world is a better place for that. But at the Amex Stadium he showed he can do the football as well as fight for causes he believes in. Anybody who thought he was taking his eye off the ball was to be left disappointed.
This feels like a big season for Rashford. Last year was the first time he finally cracked it on a consistent basis in front of goal but if he has ambitions on becoming a truly world-class attacker then he needs to be producing those numbers again and again.
After a false start against Crystal Palace he looked sharp in a brief cameo at Luton Town on Tuesday and was much better again on the south coast. The timing of his runs is something he has to improve on, having gone slightly too early in creating a disallowed goal for Mason Greenwood and then scored himself from an offside position early in the second half, but he didn’t have to wait long to find the back of the net.
Brighton’s defence were powerless to stop his smooth run from the halfway line, gliding in from the left, and his final switchback to send Ben White out of the picture was a moment of sublime composure. This was the kind of chance Rashford has been accused of snatching at previously, but this time he was ice cool inside the penalty area.
Rashford should be looking to get towards and possibly beyond 30 goals in all competition this season. Those are the numbers that the elite attackers are getting now and Rashford can join their bracket this term.
Wan-Bissaka vs Lamptey
The pattern down the right-wing of both sides was fascinating during the game and it was impossible to shake the feeling that what Tariq Lamptey was doing for Brighton at wing-back is exactly what Aaron Wan-Bissaka should be producing for United at right-back.
Lamptey might have more freedom as a wing-back, but United should be dominating these games and that should allow their full-backs to push further forward. Instead Wan-Bissaka was forced into defensive work and barely glimpsed beyond the halfway line. That’s an attacking threat United should be utilising that they simply didn’t have.
Wan-Bissaka defended very well but we’ve become accustomed to that. If this team are to go to the next level it’s going to need greater attacking contributions from their full-backs, the kind of direct running and invention Lamptey was offering the Seagulls.
He cost Brighton £42million less than United paid for Wan-Bissaka and while he’s a gamble that United were unlikely to take, the United man should be looking at the impact Lamptey had on the game in the final third and trying to add that to his own game.
The biggest surprise when the United team was announced an hour before kick-off was that Victor Lindelof had kept his place in the side ahead of Eric Bailly.
After his struggles last week and Bailly’s performance against Luton Town on Tuesday it looked certain that Lindelof would find himself out of the side, but instead his partnership with Harry Maguire received another outing.
United defended better than they had done against Crystal Palace a week ago but they still weren’t entirely convincing, with the Seagulls getting 18 shots away at their goal.
This must have felt like a kick in the teeth for Bailly. What more can he do to earn a chance in the Premier League? Solskjaer clearly wants Lindelof and Maguire to become the secure partnership he is dreaming of, but the evidence suggests Bailly deserves a chance at some point.
United’s midfield looked to be a settled one towards the end of last season but it would have been a concern to see Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes unable to control the game in the first half.
It was Steven Alzate and Adam Lallana who set the tempo and were behind Brighton’s strong first-half display and United’s trio were simply unable to stop them playing.
This was one area where match fitness may well have played a role, with Pogba clearly still below par physically, which should perhaps come as no great surprise given his positive test for COVID-19 last month, but it was still a surprise to see him, Fernandes and Matic outplayed.
It must have been an area discussed at half-time as United were much better in midfield in the early stages of the second half. That was behind United’s encouraging 15 minutes after half-time but the familiar pattern soon returned. United’s failure to get a grip in the centre of the pitch in their first two games of the season has to be a concern.
Those social media comedians who had the memes ready every time United won a penalty last season were enjoying the reversal in fortunes until the final action at the Amex.
United won a record number of penalties last season and most of them were deserved, but that scale of numbers was always going to level back out this season and now United have conceded spot-kicks in both of their first two Premier League games.
The handball against Lindelof last weekend was a contentious decision but Fernandes’ clumsy challenge on Lamptey was always a penalty. It was exactly the kind of move United were forcing defenders into last season, especially once the season resumed in June.
But Fernandes was calmness personified when United won the second penalty of their season, after Juan Mata’s effort against Luton Town in midweek. It was a bonkers end to the game but Fernandes stayed cool to collect the three points for his side.