Manchester United comfortably dispatched of Brighton & Hove Albion thanks to a dominant first half delivered by the youngest starting XI of the Premier League season.
With an average age of 23 years and 350 days, United's team was a youthful one with confidence and pace. Two goals in the first half were fortunate but deserved and though Brighton got one back, United's response was an unusually brilliant one. Marcus Rashford's second-half goal took the game away from Brighton.
After qualifying for the Europa League knockout rounds in midweek, three points against Brighton takes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side up to seventh. Brighton drop below them.
Story of the match
United's dominance was established early as they kicked towards the Stretford End. Their passing was good; quick but accurate. Dan James' speed was a constant threat and Martial drifted onto the left flank where he and Rashford combined well.
It was Rashford whose driving run forced the first save from Matt Ryan. Martial's run on the left flank opened space up, Rashford powered through it and past three defenders before Ryan saved a tame shot. A minute later, Andreas Pereira's deflected shot gave United a deserved lead.
Fred continued his improvement in midfield this weekend. He started the move for United's first goal with a powerful pass between the lines. Pereira and Martial drove forward, with the latter showing composure in the box to play it back to his teammate. Pereira had a stab with his left foot and was fortunate with a large deflection off Dale Stephens.
Though United were clean in much of what they did in the first half, scruffiness brought them goals. Harry Maguire, captain on the day and presumably permanently in the future for United, rose high to meet a corner. McTominay pounced on the loose ball and half-headed, half-kneed it in before crawling to catch up with it and make sure it reached the back of the net. As it happened, a foot from Brighton's Davy Propper made sure of its destination. VAR checked but found nothing wrong. It was the second piece of luck in the space of five minutes, and luck is what United need.
But at the back United were professional. Brandon Williams, the 19-year-old fighter of a left-back, made his first Premier League start. He was absolutely superb. Old Trafford's East Stand got to its feet on at least four occasions in the first half after watching Williams clean up in defence. Direct and aggressive, Williams is easy to like. His reading of the game was excellent and, with the exception of one loose pass, his attacking game was good too.
Brighton had chances and a ball crept in front of both Duffy and Dunk with no proper connection to take it goalwards. Connolly's header from a free-kick looped to the left of De Gea's goal. Four bookings told the real story for the Seagulls. Dan James' pace at the other end was a huge issue and even apart from the goals, they couldn't cope.
It was only two minutes into the second half that James was barged out of play once again, though the challenge was clean this time. Unlike in much of this season's failures, United came out of the break looking like the same team as the one that played well early on. Brighton's changes, with Glenn Murray and Solly March coming on, didn't affect the game greatly.
An edge-of-the-box effort from Martial struck a hand in the area but Jon Moss, nor his VAR, were interested. There was some concern when Brandon Williams' boot rose high. The youngster pulled out and so was shown yellow rather than red. A minute later he charged at the Brighton defence unfazed and won his side a corner high up the pitch.
From very little, Brighton found themselves back in the game. Lewis Dunk rose higher than McTominay and Maguire and scored Brighton's only goal of the game. Perhaps they would have mounted a serious comeback were it not for the ruthlessness of United immediately after. The Reds hit back immediately and then never stopped their assault on Ryan's goal. That has been something all too rare in this, and many other recent, campaigns.
Pereira and Fred started another move for United and the latter sent a perfectly-weighted ball into Martial's path. The Frenchman couldn't beat Ryan but pulled it back to Rashford who paused, assessed the position of the defenders on the line and rifled it in off the crossbar. A minute later, he inexplicably missed a golden opportunity carved out by James. Then Williams was denied by Ryan in a similar scenario and James himself saw a shot pushed away by the Australian goalkeeper. Much like Partizan in midweek, United could have scored many more.
Martial reignited a dampening match with a lovely touch past his marker and strong strike into Ryan's hands. Rashford worked with the Frenchman and just hooked a shot wide.
Takeaways from the match
Brandon Williams shines on first league start
The 19-year-old left-back has impressed in the Europa League this season but this was his first full league match. He was, as always, aggressive, direct and confident. Though more influential in the first half than the second, Williams is proving himself to be a first-team-ready player. The Old Trafford crowd loved him and he's a fighter. That's not the most important aspect for a footballer but it helps while a player crosses the bridge between academy and senior football. Williams has adjusted fantastically and will start ahead of Shaw upon his return.
Fred has improved
An 87th-minute sloppy pass from the Brazilian midfielder was a reminder of his weaknesses. In big games, Fred hasn't been reliable enough. But Sunday's performance was another good one for a much-critiqued player. Fred helped create the first and third and goal and in Pogba's absence is doing well, or at least better than before.
Brighton open and ill-disciplined
Four first half bookings told a tale for Brighton. They couldn't cope with the pace of James, Rashford or Martial. But they also gave space to United's quick players, far too much of it. Graham Potter's side were open and easy to attack. United haven't been quite so dominant against any other side this season.