Cristiano Ronaldo ended his goal drought in emphatic style as Manchester United moved up to fourth in the Premier League table with a 2-0 win over Brighton at Old Trafford.
Report and free match highlights as Manchester United edged out Brighton on a nervy night at Old Trafford thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes; Brighton had chances to get something from the game.
Ronaldo had gone six games without scoring but blasted home before Lewis Dunk’s red card dented Brighton’s hopes and Bruno Fernandes’ strike added late gloss to the score.
“It was an amazing goal,” said Man Utd interim manager Ralf Rangnick. “Not only an important one but an amazing one. Overall it was also a good performance from Cristiano. Energetically he was always trying to help his team-mates”.
“I think in the last weeks, definitely it was the best performance by him, and a very, very important goal for us.”
It was anything but a convincing performance from United overall, Jakub Moder hitting the crossbar and Danny Welbeck somehow heading over after Brighton were down to 10 men.
MAN UTD: De Gea (7), Dalot (6), Lindelof (6), Maguire (5), Shaw (5), McTominay (6), Fred (4), Fernandes (6), Sancho (7), Ronaldo (7), Elanga (7).
Subs: Pogba (6), Rashford (6), Telles (6).
BRIGHTON: Sanchez (7), Veltman (6), Dunk (5), Webster (5), Cucurella (7), Gross (6), Bissouma (6), Moder (7), Mac Allister (6), Maupay (6), Trossard (6).
Subs: Lamptey (6), Alzate (6), Welbeck (5).
Man of the match: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Indeed, it had required a spectacular save from David de Gea just to keep his side on level terms at the break, clawing away a Moder header with his outstretched right hand. Brighton produced the more enterprising football in that first half with United reliant on counter-attacks, the best chance coming the way of Jadon Sancho early on.
But the game turned on two losses of possession in their own half, Ronaldo punishing Yves Bissouma’s mistake and Dunk fouling Anthony Elanga after his own poor touch.
The win – only United’s third in seven games – lifts Ralf Rangnick’s side two points above West Ham and into the Champions League qualification places. Brighton remain ninth.
Good pressing but possession play is poor
Ronaldo could have added to his tally in the second half. Twice he failed to punish Brighton with his head – once thanks to a fine save by Robert Sanchez and then when he sent his attempt wide. He was unselfish when setting up Fernandes in the second half too.
The bigger concern for Rangnick will be that his team were outplayed before the red card. In terms of coherent possession play, there was little sign of the revolution taking shape. Fred endured a miserable night in midfield and Brighton’s passing game looked superior.
What Manchester United possess are those decisive players and Rangnick will at least be buoyed that the pressing game was on point – both goals and the Dunk red card all coming after winning the ball back from the opposition. That will be the encouraging aspect of this. But there is much work to do to claim that fourth spot in May.
Man of the match – Cristiano Ronaldo
Under the spotlight after a dip in form, Ronaldo made the difference. It was an error that presented him the ball with space to run into but there are few players who would have been so ruthless with that chance. It was the moment that changed the night.
“We get punished from a world-class finish by a world-class player,” said Potter afterwards. “That is what we are facing.”
Back on track! Nobody gives up and there’s only one way to get back on track: hard work, team work, serious work. Everything else is just noise. Let’s go Devils!🔴⚫️💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/u8sZzzJQn5
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) February 15, 2022
Ronaldo tends to play in moments now but he had a few here. He could easily have had assists after setting up clear-cut chances for both Sancho and Fernandes.
Rangnick’s second-half change worked
After a run of games in which Manchester United have led at half-time and then failed to win, this was a very different match. This time, the game turned in United’s favour in the second half – and that was a result of a tactical change by Rangnick at the interval.
“Everyone could see after the first half, it was not an easy game,” he explained. “They are very possession-based. It was difficult for us to get hold of the ball. We made a change and it paid off. In the second half, we were more aggressive and tried to intercept the ball”.
“The question at half-time was do we change formation or how we attack. We decided to stick to 4-2-3-1 and told our wingers to attack their centre-backs. That meant our full-backs had to jump to their full-backs and that paid off. From then on, it was a different game.”
Potter said VAR was wrong to get involved and upgrade the yellow card initially awarded to Dunk to a red card, and also suggested the atmosphere at Old Trafford played a part in allowing Manchester United’s second goal to stand.