Down The Wings

Manchester United Fan Blog

Match Report: Brentford 1-3 Manchester United

(Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Having dropped points away at Aston Villa last Saturday, it was important that Manchester United achieved a win over Brentford on Wednesday night, and they did exactly that with a 3-1 victory.

How did United set up?

Before kick-off, supporters were left confused as to why Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard, Jadon Sancho and Edison Cavani weren’t in the matchday squad. The manager confirmed beforehand that Shaw and Cavani had both dropped out of Tuesday’s training sessions, further confirming that Sancho “asked not to be part of the squad” following the funeral of a close family member today. Wan-Bissaka is understood to also be suffering with a knock, whilst Lingard’s absence could be down to the transfer speculation that is surrounding him at the moment.

For seventy-five minutes, United looked comfortable as a team against Aston Villa, but many fans feared that the draw would encourage Ralf Rangnick to change things up for the game against Brentford; however, to the surprise of many, the German interim boss opted to stick mostly with the same personnel against the Londoners.

The changes came in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo and Scott McTominay, who was suspended for the game at Villa Park. The Scotsman came in for Nemanja Matic to play as the holding midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation, with Ronaldo returning from a knock. Rangnick spoke before the game about how the 4-3-3 was going to be used, similarly to how the Reds lined up in their previous fixture.

Here was the starting lineup and substitutes:

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Starting XI: David De Gea (GK), Diogo Dalot (RB), Raphael Varane (CB), Victor Lindelöf (CB), Alex Telles (LB), Scott McTominay (CDM), Fred (CM), Bruno Fernandes (CM) Mason Greenwood (RW), Anthony Elanga (LW), Cristiano Ronaldo (ST).

Subs: Dean Henderson, Tom Heaton, Harry Maguire, Phil Jones, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial.

How it went down

First half

Unlike how they started against Villa, United were rather slow in the opening stages of the game. Looking a couple of yards off the pace, the Reds struggled to contest in one-on-one duels, and Brentford were giving the players no time on the ball whatsoever, which is a typical feature of their play under Thomas Frank.

The pressure almost paid off on a few occasions, and the home side managed to muster up some great opportunities to score as the half progressed, but De Gea bailed his team out with some vintage saves; the Spaniard looked like the David of old, denying Mathias Jensen twice from close range with the use of his feet. Ivan Toney fired another one his way not long afterwards, but the shot-stopper stood strong as the ball rebounded off his chest.

The first half was rather bleak from an attacking perspective for Rangnick’s side, who failed to conjure up a single shot on target. The most memorable moment was perhaps when Elanga’s skewed header across the face of goal was put out for a corner, and United were typically useless from those.

BT Sport pundits were quick to note at half-time how Brentford had outrun the men in blue and yellow by a whole 4.5km, which would have been a crippling statistic for Rangnick, a man who prides his teams on being intense in the press and combative in duels.

Second half

Following a dismal showing in the first half, fans were right to expect a performance after the interval, or at least some intensity and passion. The players showed exactly that, with a swift attack coming from kick-off that resulted in Ronaldo hitting the woodwork with a looping header.

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The game seemed to be falling into a stale encounter heading into the 55thminute, but then it was Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos with the Brazilian swagger to help his team break the deadlock. Fred teased in a delightful pass in behind the defence that was controlled and headed in by none other than Elanga, who bagged only his second league goal for the club (fans will recall a fine strike from Elanga against the same opposition in pre-season).

It was seven minutes later when United added another. McTominay played an inch-perfect ball to Ronaldo, who fed Fernandes in behind with a sublime chest pass. The Portuguese playmaker looked set to score his 8th league goal of the season, but he generously played it to Greenwood who could tap the ball into an open goal.

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By this point, United had well and truly taken the sting out of The Bees, who failed to really create anything worthy of getting them back into the contest at that scoreline.

Controversially, Ronaldo was replaced by Maguire not long after the goal, which saw the players seemingly drop into a five-man defensive shape. Ronaldo looked frustrated, as he was withdrawn at a time when his team were really knocking the ball about with confidence. He was later shown to be having an amicable chat with the manager, who played the incident down afterwards.

It was on the 77th minute that Fernandes slipped in Rashford- who had just replaced Greenwood- to allow the Englishman to score a much-needed goal having been suffering from low morale in weeks gone by.

Toney poked home a consolation strike for Brentford following a scrappy bit of play in the area, but his goal was merely a consolation as United saw the game out.

Final score: Brentford 1-3 Manchester United (Toney, 85’) (Elanga, 55’, Greenwood, 62’, Rashford, 77’)

Man of the match

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It’s great to have a few players to choose from for a change for United fans!

BT Sport commentator Martin Keown was full of praise for Dalot, with the full-back putting in a good shift down the right that saw him make the most ball recoveries of any player (16). Others may talk about Fernandes, who registered 2 assists in a great away win. De Gea was solid in the net and- had it not been for his heroics- United would have been in the mud at the break. Elanga again looked full of beans down the left flank, topping it off with a good goal to add to his tally.

However, whilst he may not be the popular choice, McTominay certainly made a good account of himself today. With 11 recoveries of possession, 9 duels won and 4 clearances made across the course of the game, he looked really good as the sitting midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation. He wasn’t emphatically involved in the game, but he completed 43 passes, one of which set up Ronaldo’s chest pass leading to the second goal.

The academy product looked even better going forward. Chances are, his long-term future may not lie in the holding midfield role, so fans should take encouragement in his forward play. Many believe he operates better when running at the opposition, and he proved that today, completing 5 take-ons from the 6 he attempted. He glided past the midfield with strength and precision that Zinedine Zidane could only dream of.

The bigger picture

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The first half was ropey, as it has been many times this season. Chance creation was rare and that was only enhanced by the poor progression of the ball. The second half was a terrific response, though, and it was exactly what United needed. A goal for Elanga was thoroughly deserved and fans will hope he continues on his upward trajectory. Fernandes influenced the game like he can do, with Rashford bagging a goal that he really did need. Greenwood will go under the radar, but that goal should have done him some good following some frustrating moments in the last weeks.

The result means United stay 7th in the table courtesy of a late Spurs comeback against Leicester, but manage to match Arsenal in 6th.

The key now has to be consistency. If the next game is a draw or defeat, this result stands for nothing. Players need to build on this good performance and the manager needs to stick with certain personnel. For example, there is no reason why Elanga shouldn’t start again against West Ham, as is the case with Dalot and Lindelöf.

Manchester United next take on West Ham in a highly anticipated clash in the race for Champions League football, kicking off at 15:00 (BST) this Saturday at the Theatre of Dreams.

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