The Brentford Community Stadium is a tough place to go. Chelsea ran out of their with a 3 points after their goalkeeper was their man of the match. Arsenal were chased away with their tails between their legs on the first day of the season. Man City slowed to 3 points while Liverpool were involved in a rip roaring 3-3 draw.
The first half, we saw why the top teams found it so tough. Without De Gea, United would have been down at least 3 goals by half time. Elanga and Greenwood got a quick fire double to pull ahead. Rashford, who came in for a disgruntled Ronaldo not being able to get his goal, finished the goalscoring on United’s side. Toney would mean that De Gea would go without a clean sheet for his great performance. Whereas other games, the performance has overshadowed the result even when we won, the performance was capable enough in the second half that a win is a win.
It is one of the most important aspects of a science experiment. It is why often, the ones that are accepted have been peer reviewed by other scientists and repeated by others. The ability to repeat something, a process, and produce the same results is an often overlooked skill but it is integral in all walks of life. When Rangnick spoke in his first press conference, he continually repeated the word control and one quote particularly stuck out. In paraphrase, he said that he wants to reduce the coincidence that has repeatedly plagued Man Utd, not just for this season, but for as long as the mind can remember post Ferguson.
If there is anything that goes against Man Utd’s replicability in performance, it would be them away from Old Trafford. “The Mad Bunch” as ex player Gary Neville, half affectionately, half in frustration. The game on Saturday, where the team threw a 2-0 lead within 10 minutes, encapsulated the coincidental nature of Man Utd. It went against every single thing that Rangnick has wanted to instil in this team and in going up against Brentford, it would be important as they are a team who thrive off momentum and energy from the crowd. Since the away fans have been back, the way in which that the players have shirked when they go up against any sort of noise, let alone a cauldron, has been utterly concerning. So tonight was going to be a test.
In essence, nothing has changed. By the time 45 minutes had past, the only things that could be said about the team were negative. No part of the team in front of the goalkeeper did anything to stop The Bees from getting a leg up in the game. Going from front to back, Ronaldo, Elanga and Greenwood offered no sort of respite by holding onto the ball when United were able to get sustained bouts of possession. Despite the fact 68% of possession was the Red Devils, much of it was in unthreatening areas and stuck in a cycle of between the defence and midfield. Bruno, McTominay and Fred were poor in possession, with the former dropping as deep as I have ever seen him to get touches on the ball. Dalot was culpable of cheap concessions and Telles was getting worked down his side as well. For as much as they had to deal with, Lindelof and Varane dealt with what they could but it didn’t stop the almost onslaught of the United goal in the first half
You never know what to expect and the team surprised us again. Bruno and Fred switched in their positioning. The importance of winning the duels, something that Brentford’s football is predicated upon, was shown as United finally began to win some and it changed the course of the game. The momentum grew and as Brentford emptied the midfield and their press became less intense, United were able to pick passes with less resistance. As Brendan Rodgers has said before, “Give a bad player space and you’re in trouble. Give a good player space and they’ll kill you.” As much as United fans berate the quality within the team, myself included, they are not as bad as they have shown this season. The ball from Fred to Elanga, which the Swedish U21 international ably controlled and headed into an almost unguarded net, was one out of nothing. The second half performance was much like that. The 2nd goal was interplay and connectivity that has seldom been seen since the beautiful goal that Lingard lashed in for the 4th against Newcastle in September. Ronaldo cushioned a long ball with his chest into Bruno’s path, who bore down upon goal before waiting for Greenwood to slot into an empty net. Bruno again was the one who laid the ball for the third, as Rashford lashed into the top of the net.
It’s inexplicable. Without reason. How can both halves be the same set of players? The only sort of reason that can be offered is that this team is at the behest of the intangibles, like confidence, mentality, intensity, more than a top team should. If Rangnick is to control the coincidences more like he has said, more work has to be done to rectify that than any.
Much has been made of the offensive difference made on our right hand side from Dalot’s inclusion over Wan Bissaka but tonight, the Portuguese right back showed how he could offer just as much defensively. The latter’s prowess in 1v1 duels is something that is probably unmatched across the league but in other defensive areas, he can be surprisingly lacking. One of which is when the ball is on the other side of the pitch. Dalot had an up and down game but that was one aspect that he was stellar in. With Toney on his side and likely to pull onto him, he dealt superbly with the crosses into his side. Right now, it is his spot to lose.
Goals for Rashford and Greenwood after tough spells without one can hopefully cajole them back into the form that embedded so deep in the hearts of the Old Trafford faithful. The recent introduction of Elanga and the immovable Ronaldo means that the game time has been cut more than it has within the last two years. Them being back to their best is important if United are to finish in the top four.