Manchester United’s stuttering pursuit of a Premier League top-four finish continues on Wednesday as they entertain Brentford at Old Trafford.
United headed to St James’ Park to take on fellow Premier League top-four hopefuls Newcastle United with lofty ambitions but returned home empty-handed.
Erik ten Hag’s side comfortably dispatched the Magpies 2-0 to lift the League Cup trophy in February as Casemiro and Marcus Rashford ran the show at Wembley Stadium.
Fast forward a couple of months and that same Newcastle side breezed past the Red Devils 2-0, restricting Rashford & co to only one shot on target.
Only David de Gea’s vintage performance between the sticks helped Man United get away with ‘just’ two goals conceded as Eddie Howe’s side picked the three-time European champions apart.
There’s no time to moan about an underwhelming result on Tyneside, with United now forced to fend off fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur after already surrendering the third place to Newcastle.
Having won none of their last three Premier League matches (D1, L2), the Red Devils return to Old Trafford that’s been a safe shelter this season, looking to disrupt Brentford’s unlikely surge up the ladder.
As one of the biggest surprise packages this season, the Bees come into midweek proceedings only six points adrift of Spurs despite drawing their last two league games.
With ten rounds left, manager Thomas Frank hopes his team can overcome a sticky patch down the final stretch and capture a historic European finish against all the odds.
Man United’s three-game winless streak in the Premier League saw them fail to get on the scoresheet three times in a row for the first time since 1989.
While drawing a blank at Liverpool may not be the end of the world – although it should be, based on the Reds’ form this season – that 7-0 humiliation at Anfield will not be forgotten in a hurry.
However, a drab scoreless draw against basement boys Southampton in their most recent home league outing raised concerns, especially considering the Saints could’ve easily walked away with three points.
On a more positive note, that stalemate helped Man Utd extend their eye-catching unbeaten league run at the Theatre of Dreams to 12 straight matches (W9, D3) since losing to Brighton & Hove Albion on the opening weekend.
Stretching back to the tail-end of the 2021/22 campaign, the Red Devils have only lost one of their last 22 league matches on home turf (W14, D7), so there’s still plenty of optimism streaming through their veins.
Adding to United’s confidence, they’ve outscored Brentford in their last three home league encounters by an aggregate score of 10-1 in a run stretching back to 1939.
But Man United would be silly to let that outdated data lure them into a false sense of security. An embarrassing 4-0 defeat at the Gtech Community Stadium in the reverse fixture should be a reminder of that.
A brace of scoring draws against Brighton and Leicester City in the build-up to this trip may not be the best way to prepare for what promises to be a challenging task for Brentford.
However, except for a gut-wrenching 1-0 defeat at Everton in March, the Bees have gone undefeated in 18 of their last 19 Premier League games (W7, D8).
Only Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle have lost fewer league matches than Frank’s side this term (five), so Man United should be wary of their visitors’ unparalleled fighting spirit.
While they’ve proved hard to beat, Brentford have established themselves as somewhat ‘stalemate specialists’ in the process, drawing a league-high 13 Premier League matches in 2022/23.
There’s no doubt they’d settle for another share of the spoils at Old Trafford, but after trouncing the Red Devils in the reverse fixture, they may look to take advantage of United’s dip in form.
Ominously for Man United, the Bees have yet to lose a midweek Premier League assignment this season, beating Southampton in their most recent such contest after back-to-back draws against Chelsea and Crystal Palace.
Player to Watch: Marcus Rashford
Man United’s recent drop-off has coincided with Rashford’s inability to maintain his outrageous form from the opening three months of 2023.
But the England international has been too hot to handle at Old Trafford this term, netting 18 home goals in all competitions, most by any United player at home since Wayne Rooney’s tally of 19 in 2011/12.
Player to Watch: Ivan Toney
Ivan Toney has scored on Brentford’s last two Premier League travels, helping them eke out a 3-3 draw at Brighton over the weekend.
The marquee striker has already amassed 17 top-flight goals this season, so Man United should keep close tabs on him.
Premier League Form
Manchester United: LDLWW
Ten Hag cannot call upon the services of Alejandro Garnacho and Donny van de Beek as they struggle with foot and knee injuries, respectively.
But Casemiro’s absence due to a red-card suspension is a real issue, as evidenced by Man United’s disheartening performance at St James’ Park on Sunday.
While there’s cautious optimism about Christian Eriksen’s return from an ankle injury, it’s unlikely that the Dane will be fit enough to start.
So ten Hag will have a tough choice to make – whether to stick with Scott McTominay and Marcel Sabitzer as he did at Newcastle or reincorporate Fred at the expense of one of them.
Brentford will only be without long-term absentee Kristoffer Ajer, although there’s still doubt over Vincent Janelt’s fitness after he picked up a knee problem in mid-March.
We Say: Manchester United 2-1 Brentford
It’s hard to tell whether Man United can perform at the highest level without Casemiro, but a feverish atmosphere at Old Trafford should make up for the Brazilian’s absence.
Another below-par result would throw United’s top-four pursuit into complete disarray, and that’s not a risk Ten Hag can afford to take ahead of a hectic schedule awaiting his side down the final stretch.
With relegation-fighting Everton coming to town at the weekend, the Red Devils should have six points in the bag this week if everything goes according to plan.
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