Manchester United ground out an all-important 1-0 home win over European hopefuls Brentford on Wednesday evening to consolidate their Premier League top-four charge.
Having dropped out of the Premier League top four for the first time in 2023, the Red Devils had no room for error on Wednesday night, with Champions League qualification on the line.
United’s woeful 2-0 defeat at Newcastle United on Sunday exposed many flaws in Erik ten Hag’s tactical set-up, led by Wout Weghorst’s uselessness in the Dutchman’s bid to rely on quick counters.
After another below-par showing, the Burnley loanee finally found himself on the bench tonight, as ten Hag went with Marcus Rashford as the striker, supported by Antony and Jadon Sancho.
In complete contrast to their slow start to Sunday’s game at St James’ Park, United pinned Brentford to their opening third from the get-go, seeking amends for a three-game league scoring drought.
Presentable chances were at a premium in the opening quarter of the game. But you could feel the high press and significant ball possession would produce some openings sooner or later.
It happened in the 27th minute as Rashford took his tally to 19 competitive goals at Old Trafford this season with another top-class finish from inside the box to put the Red Devils in front.
While Man United failed to create more clear-cut opportunities for the remainder of the first half, they did a superb job keeping Brentford miles away from David de Gea’s goal.
However, Ten Hag’s side lost some of their first-half enthusiasm after the break, which almost came back to bite them in the 67th minute as De Gea stepped up with a vital save to deny Kevin Schade in a one-on-one.
Second-half substitute Fred had a glorious opportunity to fire United 2-0 up and kill the game off in the 80th minute. But his wayward finish from a promising position denied Rashford an assist.
Luckily for United, the Brazilian’s miss went unpunished as ten Hag’s side avenged a 4-0 demolition from the reverse fixture and avoided going four straight Premier League games without scoring for the first time.
David de Gea (6/10) – Enjoyed the spectator role in the first 45 minutes. Another lapse of concentration early in the second half almost gifted a cheap goal to Ivan Toney. Made up for it with a brilliant save.
Diogo Dalot (6/10) – Dealing with Bryan Mbeumo suited him far better than defending against Allan Saint-Maximin last weekend. Attacking-wise left a lot to be desired.
Lisandro Martinez (8/10) – Gandalf’s famous quote ‘You shall not pass’ probably best illustrates the Argentine’s display tonight. Way too ahead of his opponents.
Raphael Varane (8/10) – Next to him, Toney looked like a second-tier striker. Another defensive masterstroke was on display tonight.
Luke Shaw (6/10) – Had a lively start to the game. Too bad another injury scare forced him to go out after only 37 minutes.
Scott McTominay (6/10) – Much better showing from the want-to-be-striker Scott than against Newcastle, especially in terms of high pressing and winning the ball back. Couldn’t resist the temptation of picking up another silly booking.
Marcel Sabitzer (7/10) – Far more composed on and off the ball than his midfield partner. Shrewdly headed the ball down to set Rashford up on a silver platter.
Jadon Sancho (3/10) – Based on tonight’s performance, it’s little wonder ten Hag is running out of patience with one of the most expensive signings in United’s history.
Bruno Fernandes (6/10) – Wasted too many diagonal balls and unnecessary crosses in early exchanges and failed to grow into the contest. This wasn’t his night.
Antony (7/10) – Unlike his right-wing counterpart, the Brazilian was in the thick of every attacking movement and his share in United’s opener. Pity the finishing touch often let him down.
Marcus Rashford (9/10) *MOTM* – Became the first Man Utd player to net 19+ home goals in a single season since Wayne Rooney in 2011/12. What a player!
Tyrell Malacia (7/10) – Slotted in for Shaw late in the first half and proved an attacking nuisance with his speed and fancy footwork.
Fred (6/10) – Could and should have scored. Otherwise, held up his end of the bargain after coming on to help United keep things tight in the middle of the park.
Anthony Martial (6/10) – Kept his markers on their toes and looked smooth in possession. Not bad for his second cameo appearance after a long-term injury.
Victor Lindelof – N/A
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