Manchester United scored three times without reply and enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 victory against Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday to ease into the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup.
There was little between the two sides in the first hour and in a match of few clear cut opportunities it took a set piece to break the deadlock, with the unmarked Scott McTominay heading home from Juan Mata‘s cross at the back post. Mata then turned goal scorer in the second half, collecting the ball inside the Brighton area and slotting home with a silky finish. Substitute Paul Pogba then added the decisive blow, a devastating and unstoppable free kick from a wide angle to put the game beyond doubt.
Brighton enjoyed a spell of possession in the second half, but Dean Henderson had very few saves to make in the United goal as five times League Cup winners United march on.
The evergreen Mata can always be relied upon to lead by example. He pulled the strings for United and was involved in his 12th and 13th goals in his past 15 starts in all competitions. His smart finish to double United’s lead was his 50th goal for the club.
This wasn’t vintage United, but while the first half was lacking in quality, the second was a vast improvement. It was a very much a second string from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and while his side laboured in the first half, he’ll be pretty happy with their work.
Manager rating out of 10
6 — Solskjaer opted to field a much-changed side and it paid off, meaning his charges are well rested for the clash against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. His side weren’t convincing in the first half but a clean sheet, coupled with a clean bill of health and a strong finish to the game, represents a successful evening’s work for the manager.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Dean Henderson, 7 — Henderson had little to do but he did his job when called upon, saving well on one occasion with a strong left wrist to deny Leandro Trossard in the second half. In the first half, he dived low to his right to save a shot from Alireza Jahanbakhsh before recovering quickly to dive on the loose ball.
DF Diogo Dalot, 6 — The full-back showed some neat touches and a willingness to get forward. He was neat and tidy on the ball but unspectacular.
DF Victor Lindelof, 5 — The centre-back enjoyed the backing of his manager recently, but this was another display that will have many fans questioning his suitably to the task at hand.
DF Eric Bailly, 8 — A solid performance at the centre of United’s defence, thwarting potential counterattacks and often covering for Lindelof. He showed his blistering pace to sweep up on more than one occasion, while he also tried to get on the end of Mata’s free kick in the first half, only to be beaten to the ball by McTominay.
DF Brandon Williams, 6 — The left back-liked to get forward and overlap Daniel James, and argued for a penalty in the first half when he was challenged by Joel Veltman. Looked promising when he opted against playing the easy ball.
MF Fred, 6 — The midfielder enjoyed lots of touches and he tested Jason Steele in the Brighton goal when he tried his luck from distance in the first half, although his effort was easily saved. He had another go from a long-range free kick in the second period but again it was easily dealt with by Steele.
MF Scott McTominay, 7 — Headed home the opening goal, and his first of the season, when he was left unmarked at the back post from Mata’s free kick. Looked tidy in the middle throughout.
MF Juan Mata, 8 — The playmaker was United’s man of the match, controlling the tempo and showing an impressive turn of pace. He started by carving out the opening chance of the game and then earned the free kick that led to the first goal. Mata picked himself up after being brought down by Dan Burn to deliver the set piece that was headed home by McTominay. He added gloss to his performance with a well-taken goal 18 minutes from time.
MF Donny van de Beek, 7 — The 23-year-old excels finding pockets of space between the defenders and midfielders, and he linked the play well in and around the Brighton box when United ventured forward. He looked particularly impressive when Pogba and Marcus Rashford entered the game.
FW Daniel James, 5 — Looked to combine with Williams on the left but he was often wasteful in possession. So often a scapegoat for United fans, his performance on this night will have done little to ease the pressure on his shoulders.
FW Odion Ighalo, 6 — The striker had the first chance of the game when, after receiving a cross from Mata, he could only fire into the side netting, albeit from a tight angle.
MF Paul Pogba, 7 — The World Cup winner announced his arrival on the pitch with a powerful header that went just wide of the post. Moments later, he sent an unstoppable free kick into the top corner. Class.
FW Marcus Rashford, 7 — Rashford looks to be growing in confidence and he had a heavy hand in United’s second goal, his incisive pass finding Mata.
MF Jesse Lingard N/R — The England international needs a boost to his confidence and he performed well in his latest cameo role. He didn’t score, but he came close and managed to get into dangerous positions in the limited time he had on the pitch.