Manchester United travelled to the Brentford Community Stadium to face newly-promoted side Brentford. This was the first league meeting between the sides since April 1947. That particular match ended in a goalless draw and the travelling reds were hoping for a more favourable outcome on this occasion.
United were unbeaten in their previous 12 Premier League away games against London opposition, and also won the sides previous meeting – a 2-1 League Cup victory in 1975. Despite not yet tasting Premier League success in 2022, this was a match that required an immediate response and expectations were at a high.
The atmosphere in the stadium was electric and the home support was exhilarated in welcoming their guests. As expected, this inspired a confident start from Brentford and they raced out of the blocks. United were more than capable to manage this however.
The opening 10 minutes saw United settle into a comfortable setup, retaining possession and allowing a deep-lying Bruno Fernandes to dictate the game. The return of talisman Cristiano Ronaldo paved the way for a constant threat in attack. Despite this, United retained the ball with little to worry the home crowd.
13 minutes into the game and a lapse of defensive concentration forced David de Gea into his first save. It was a save that sparked a golden period for Brentford, with the home side managing three corners and four attempts on goal, all of which supplied no end product.
United weathered the onslaught and began to impose their superior ball-playing ability. Brentford would retreat into a predominantly defensive structure, with United controlling the lion’s share of possession. Despite this control, the opening 30 minutes saw United’s best opportunity coming from a long-range Diogo Dalot effort.
A wonderfully worked counterattack saw Brentford spark back to life and De Gea was forced into his second highlight-reel save. This saw the hosts grow back into attack and United were again forced to deal with a period of applied pressure.
Without any further incidents of note, the half fizzled to an end. For United, it was an all too familiar disjointed performance in which the opposition keeper was not tested. Brentford would be the happier of the sides and would feel extremely unlucky not have hit the net. United would only touch the ball 8 times in Brentford’s box and managed zero shots on goal. Ralf Rangnick would need to harness his tactical prowess and impact the game at the half.
Somewhat surprisingly, the manager opted to stick with the same lineup for the start of the second half. It was a case of the German hairdryer treatment at half-time and an expectation for a response. The players did indeed respond and there was a real urgency to their play. It was a promising 5-minute spell that saw Ronaldo turn a Fernandes cross onto the woodwork.
United continued to grow into the game and the pace at which the ball was being moved inspired much confidence for the travelling support. This was United: confidence in possession, quick movement on and off the ball and an arrogance that is required when wearing the shirt.
This improvement in play inevitably led to the opening goal and this came through youngster Anthony Elanga. A sublime pass from Fred was controlled and finished with a cheeky touch. This was Fred’s 3rd assist in as many games – his 5th goal contribution (1 goal & 4 assists) in 8 appearances.
United continued to press and were rewarded with a 2nd goal shortly afterwards. A tremendous team goal that started with the magnificent Scott McTominay and ended with an easy tap in for Mason Greenwood.
Much to the displeasure of Ronaldo, Rangnick decided to introduce some fresh legs on the 71st minute. The Portuguese was visibly frustrated with his ejection and would do well to appreciate the greater picture in squad management.
Just as the manager had correctly planned the resumption, his substitutions were also vindicated. An extremely welcome goal for the returning Marcus Rashford, a fitting addition to this second-half display.
United were comfortable in possession and it was looking like the perfect 2nd half performance. Unfortunately, Brentford would find the back of the net through Ivan Toney in the last 5 minutes. An unfortunate trend for this United side is their inability to keep consistent clean sheets.
Bruno had the opportunity to add to his 2 goal contributions in the closing minutes of injury time, but his lackadaisical chip was rightfully collected by Jonas Loessi. Despite this, United collected 3 points, scored 3 goals and had more than 3 deserving candidates for MOTM.
Job done and onto West Ham.
5 talking points
– Dave saves, again! An underwhelming 1st half team performance saw the Spaniard called into action on two crucial occasions. Say what you will about his ball distribution, his shot-stopping remains amongst the very finest in the world.
– Set Pieces. On a night that saw United win 9 corners, we’re again left waiting for a goal from one. As United have now gone over 100 corners in the Premier League without conversion, when will we see one again?
– Dalot stakes his claim. Arguably his best performance in a United shirt. Threatening in attack and extremely impressive in defence, a serious contender for MOTM. Let’s hope he can kick on and grow from this performance.
– Majestic McTominay. Good in the 1st and imperious in the 2nd, McTominay was everywhere. He started attacks, broke up opposition phases and did not stop running until he had to be taken off the field. His lack of availability was clear against Villa and we await news of his availability for West Ham.
– Bruno. Despite much of the ball in the 1st, the Portuguese wasn’t able to threaten as much as we had hoped from deep. His transition into a more advanced role in the 2nd transformed the attack. 2 more assists for the magician and a goal that he left in the keeper’s arms. He’s vital to this United team and pundits would do well in remembering this.