The dream run of Bruno Fernandes in a Manchester United shirt continued as he put on a masterclass to help the Red Devils beat Brighton in Premier League on Tuesday at the empty Amex Stadium. Cajoled by the unstoppable Portuguese, the Ole Gunnar Soslkjaer-managed side produced one of their best performances of the season.
After young academy graduate Mason Greenwood gave United a lead, Fernandes scored twice in either half of the match to take the Red Devils in a touching distance of fourth-placed Chelsea. While United have 52 points from 32 matches, the Blues have 54 points from 31 matches.
If the European ban of Manchester City remains, a fifth-place finish for United will hand them their return to the UEFA Champions League. If United make it, the credit for much of their success should go to Fernandes who seems to have injected a transformation to the Old Trafford side.
They have come a long way since the embarrassing 0-2 defeat at the hands of Burnley in January and have remained undefeated in their last 15 matches across competitions, including eight clean sheets in last 13 games.
It has been their only defeat since Fernandes’ arrival and with the recovery of Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford United can only be strengthened further.
With a run-in that includes games against Bournemouth, Aston Villa and West Ham, Solskjaer’s men could enjoy a memorable conclusion to the campaign as they also chase success in the FA Cup and Europa League.
After scoring an extra-time winner against Norwich in midweek FA Cup fixture, Harry Maguire was at the heart of the matter again. He initiated United’s first attack when he produced an inch-perfect long pass to Paul Pogba who, in turn, fed it to Fernandes before the 25-year-old hit the post.
However, the visitors did not have to wait long as Greenwood opened the scoring in the 16th minute after he cut in from the right and froze Lewis Dunk to fire a low shot past Brighton keeper Mat Ryan. It was the youngster’s 13th goal in all competition in his debut season.
The second goal was a result of the much anticipated Pogba-Fernandes combination. The French midfielder woked the ball back to the former Sporting player whose strike deflected off Alexis Mac Allister to squirm into the backside of Brighton’s net.
The Portugal international wasn’t done yet as he took the match out of 15th placed Brighton’s reach with a goal that came off a swaggering counter-attack from United.
Nemanja Matic started the counter with a cross-field pass to Greenwood. Sprinting away with the ball, the 18-year-old then delivered a perfect cross for Fernandes to put the final nail in the home team’s coffin.