Back in 2013, a wise man once said that Manchester United must improve in several areas, including passing, creating chances, and defending. The person in question is none other than former United manager David Moyes, and after nine long years, United supporters still cling to his comments.
The challenging nature of Erik ten Hag’s job was undoubtedly exposed to a harsh beating in the Brentford Community Stadium. In the first half, the persistent bees thoroughly stung the Red Devils and gave them the runaround. Ten Hag’s term has began with a stark reality check, as he cut a forlorn figure.
While United’s defeat made all the headlines, the credit, however, has to be given to Brentford. Thomas Frank drilled his team to near perfection and targeted his opponent’s weakness. His team was all over the loose balls and ran 13 more kilometers more than Manchester United. So, where did Brentford hit United to secure a historic 4-0 victory?
Manchester United and Brentford’s setup
Christian Eriksen started the game against Brighton and Hove Albion as a false 9, but he was given a much deeper role this time around. Owing to a lack of ball-playing defensive midfield options, Ten Hag decided to utilize the Dane in that role.
Interestingly, Diogo Dalot drifted inside with Jadon Sancho, providing the width on the right. Left-back Luke Shaw usually played as a third center-back in the first phase to create overloads against Brentford’s front two.
Meanwhile, Brentford lined up in their usual 3-5-2. Frank, however, targeted his former player Eriksen during the buildup with Mathias Jensen. The midfielder left no stone unturned and constantly closed down his fellow countrymen. Brentford’s pressing combined with United’s sluggishness on the ball meant they struggled to find Dalot – the free man in midfield.
On the ball, the Bees looked to go long and target Lisandro Martinez’s side. This is shown by the fact that their attacks came 46 percent from Martinez’s side. David Raya and Ivan Toney also revealed the team’s desire to expose United’s right side with long balls.
“That was the game plan today — kicking it long, to utilize Ivan’s strengths in the air. We used it the whole game and it paid off,” Raya said after the game.
Toney constantly got the better of Manchester United’s summer arrival, and Brentford were all over the second balls if they couldn’t win the first. Their perseverance was evident in the opening goal as Jensen pounced on Ronaldo before Josh Da Silva scored from a long-range effort.
Brentford’s pressing triggers
David de Gea was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the first couple of weeks. Pundits and fans alike have questioned his ability on the ball and Brentford targeted and exposed this side of his game. He made a calamitous error for the first goal, and his evening certainly did not get any better.
During goal kicks, Martinez stayed on the edge of the six-yard box to aid De Gea. Brentford’s trigger to press was when the ball was played back to him. Jensen man marked Eriksen, who played as a defensive midfielder as the bees swamped United’s keeper.
Here, Eriksen makes a clever movement and creates space for himself to receive the ball and play a one-touch pass to Maguire. However, De Gea’s poor awareness combined with his inability to withstand pressure resulted in him kicking it out wide.
Luke Shaw is now under pressure from two players and has no options for a quick pass to keep the play moving. Hence, he decided to go long to the channels and Brentford ultimately win the ball back.
And now United are open in midfield and the home team win the first and the second ball. The warning signs were all over the pitch, as Brentford used De Gea as a trigger to regain possession.
Here is another example where De Gea’s poor kick results in United struggling to maintain possession. Dalot makes a clever inverted run and instead of a simple chipped pass to the right back, he opts for a long ball towards the center. Brentford wins it back easily and restores possession.
So, the warning signs were undoubtedly alarming. Nevertheless, Man United’s keeper’s poor decision-making was once again on the show for the second goal. Despite witnessing Jensen closing down Eriksen, De Gea opts to play a pass to the Dane. Jensen wins the ball back in United’s penalty box and scores the goal.
It is obvious from the first two games that United have to change their number 1 for Ten Hag’s method to function. Despite his incredible accomplishments throughout the years, De Gea may be considered antiquated because he hasn’t developed to meet the demands of a modern goalkeeper.
An Ivan Toney masterclass
Ivan Toney was the architect of Brentford’s stunning victory on Saturday. He gave a tough time for the United center halves, but his contribution to the third and fourth goals encapsulated the rest of the afternoon. Although he was not on the score sheet, United could not handle his sheer running ability and physique.
Brentford’s set pieces were certainly interesting. They gathered 8 men in the box during corners and split up at the last second. Toney’s role was usually to get to the far post and, with his insane physicality, he won headers with ease against his marker.
For Ben Mee’s goal, Toney against Eriksen is undoubtedly a mismatch. He easily glides past his former teammate and heads into the dangerous six-yard area. Brentford’s new signing scores the third as the stadium erupted in delight.
For the fourth goal, the Englishman’s running prowess and his ability on the ball were on show. United string together a move, but Jensen wins the ball back in the edge of the box. With Dalot on the front foot, Toney knows that his runs in behind the channels would cause havoc – and it certainly did.
Maguire was caught napping as Jensen clears the ball. From the picture below, one could see Eriksen pointing out to the United captain to look after Toney. Well, it did not pan out that way. As a result, fellow center-back Martinez was pulled out of his position.
The Brentford number 9 still had a lot of work to do in this situation, but he managed to complete the counterattack by drilling a wonderful through ball to Mbuemo who made it 4-0 inside 35 minutes.
It is fair to say that Brentford were on their game from the word go. But Manchester United’s poor display both on and off the ball was undoubtedly a major reason for the thrashing. Defensive calamities aside, the Red Devils struggled to keep hold of the ball as their passing was all over the place.
Ten Hag’s plan to invert Dalot and use him as a freeman did not materialize as a result of slow and poor decision-making by the players. This reason, combined with a lack of defensive midfielder, caused all sorts of trouble in the first two games. As mentioned above, there were warning signs even before the game got out of United’s hands, but they kept falling for Brentford’s trap throughout the game.
To make matters worse, Ten Hag’s men face a daunting task as they take on Liverpool next week. Some may call out the manager’s naivety to use certain players against a physical Brentford side, but it is important to remember that he is trying to stamp his authority and develop a set of patterns for the team. Hence, it will take time to implement his ideas.
With that being said, the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool got their recruitment process right in order to be where they are currently. At Manchester United, however, this does not seem to be the case. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see where the team goes from here and how Ten Hag deals with this massive setback.