Man Utd's flying forwards bringing fun back to Old Trafford
"There's been a change in mood and purpose since the last international break, demonstrated by five wins from the last seven games."
By James Cooper
Last Updated: 11/11/19 2:13pm
Manchester United are up to seventh in the Premier League following Sunday's 3-1 win against Brighton. Sky Sports News reporter James Cooper analyses their season so far and reflects on a new sense of optimism around Old Trafford.
There's been a change in mood and purpose since the last international break, demonstrated by five wins from the last seven games in all competitions, with the surprise defeat at Bournemouth given 'blip' status after Sunday's comfortable win over Brighton.
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Not since the opening day win over Chelsea had Old Trafford felt like a fun place to be, but by the time John Moss blew his whistle to mark the end of the contest with Brighton, the atmosphere inside the stadium was relaxed and calm, this was a game the Manchester United faithful had enjoyed watching.
Goals always help and Brighton played their part too, their recent reputation promised a sterner examination than the midweek visitors Partizan Belgrade presented, but again Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's players plundered three goals and should have managed more.
Brighton arrived in a loftier position than their hosts for the first time ever, with ambitions of securing the victory that's eluded them on every visit to the red side of Manchester since 1909, but in truth Graham Potter's strategy and personnel played into United's hands.
As soon as Andreas Perreira's deflected effort hit the back of the net in the 17th minute Manchester United never looked back, but the crucial moment came 19 minutes into the second half when Brighton made the score 2-1, courtesy of Lewis Dunk's thumping header that owed as much to his application as the absence of red shirts around him.
For a moment most of the 73,000 fans inside Old Trafford held their breath and even Solskjaer himself must have wondered how his players would respond. Would they allow their opponents back into the game and see an important three points disappear? Less than two minutes later the answer was provided by the move of the game as Fred's pinpoint pass found Anthony Martial in full flight but with the presence of mind to pick out Marcus Rashford, who supplied an emphatic finish.
Those three players tell you everything about how Manchester United have begun to rediscover their belief and some of their identity. Fred wanted a run of games and in the absence of Paul Pogba, he's got them too. He might not be providing the £50m flourishes yet but he is improving, protecting the ball better and his pass for Martial was sublime, so too was the way he manoeuvred through three players pressing him on the touchline to find Scott McTominay in the second half.
Anthony Martial's given United another attacking dimension since his two-month injury lay-off and added even more pace to a front-line that Brighton struggled to deal with. He looks like he's enjoying wearing the No 9 shirt right now and playing with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Dan James.
As for Rashford, the goals are flowing for the striker who celebrated his 22nd birthday last week but even he'd admit he should have more of them. He's found the target six times in the seven games since the last break, but against Brighton somehow only managed a single goal.
These are a group of players who are showing us they can smile again, the celebrations after each of yesterday's goals are symptomatic of their desire to raise standards and Solskjaer will also be delighted by how well one of his defensive gambles is starting to pay off.
Brandon Williams was given a standing ovation as he departed proceedings on the 90-minute mark after a typically spiky performance that saw one booking and plenty of character and endeavour.
The Manchester United fans have quickly warmed to the 19-year-old, they like someone with a bit of fight and Williams appears to have taken that part of the club's DNA to heart.
In truth, there'll be far harder tests than Brighton in the weeks and months to come, but seventh spot is certainly approaching the sort of territory Manchester United fans expect to see their team, rather than scrolling to the bottom half of the table.
The way things are at Old Trafford right now each game United play seems to be a barometer of what progress is or isn't being made. The next opponents lying in wait, Chris Wilder's fifth-placed Sheffield United, will again tell us if this is a sustained recovery and just how useful this latest international break has been.