Juan Mata set up the standout chance prior to his assist for Scott McTominay and his craft is still key, whatever the competition. At 32, Mata is mainly a cup specialist and came on to effect the Europa League quarter-final against Copenhagen in extra-time and arrived too late in the semi-final defeat to Sevilla.
The Spaniard became the only United player to score in every post-Ferguson season at Luton last week and was captain at Brighton, where he was at his most influential through the middle. His incision brought out the best in Donny van de Beek and Mata’s goal was as clever as it was class.
Even though Premier League benches have been reduced back down to seven substitutes Mata is an essential matchday squad member and could be back in the fold against Tottenham on Sunday.
James lacking belief
Daniel James was dropped from a United Premier League squad for the first time at Brighton and did nothing to suggest he would be recalled this weekend back at Brighton. Back on his stronger side on the left, James had an air of resignation as United continue to pursue a winger for the opposite flank.
That might have a knock-on effect, with Leeds as keen to sign James as they were when they had him at their training ground to pose with the club shirt in January 2019. Quantity reigns over quality in United’s squad depth strength and James would ordinarily be in line to come in for any of the front three.
Then again, Adnan Januzaj started four out of United’s first six games in 2015-16 and then promptly joined Borussia Dortmund on loan.
McTominay offers best of both worlds
All eight of McTominay’s United goals have come on Solskjaer’s watch and his manager has spoken about coaxing those attacking instincts out of him. McTominay has the presence to be a greater threat at set-pieces and this was his first goal from a dead-ball situation.
Nemanja Matic remains the only specialist defensive midfielder in the United first-team squad but was nigh-on anonymous in the first half of last season and his absence was offset by McTominay until he succumbed to injury. He could eventually resume that role again but is an option in an attack as well as defence.
Increasing re-sale value?
It says much about Diogo Dalot’s lowly stock that his selection at right-back was more of a surprise than when Timothy Fosu-Mensah was brought back from the dead at Crystal Palace in July. Perversely, Dalot’s clout among some United fans was high by virtue of him hardly playing and, on his first start since June 27, he showed why he has not been getting a look-in.
Dalot was lazy when Bernardo bypassed him before Eric Bailly halted the Brighton forward’s charge and, for a full-back with more attacking instincts than the reticent Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Dalot was too risk-aversive until he found Paul Pogba late on.
Amid intense speculation of a move to AC Milan, Dalot’s selection might have been with the intention of maintaining his value. It did not rise.
Pogba makes weekend decision an easy one
The free-kick was deflected and an own goal, though United had already felt the benefit of having Pogba on the pitch. Pogba’s passing was slicker and his movement more mobile in a warm-up act to Spurs’ visit.
There was some surprise at Pogba’s squad inclusion after his subdued performances in the league but the plan came off. Pogba has form for flourishing off the bench and the introductions of the Frenchman and Marcus Rashford took the game away from Brighton.
Eric Bailly was easily the most authoritative of the United centre halves and reiterated why he has to partner Harry Maguire in the league.