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Looking Ahead: Brentford

We’re back at it...

Manchester United v Brentford - Premier League - Old Trafford Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

Don’t even look at last week’s preview, I look like a damn fool.

Brighton smacked United around in the first half last week, and despite getting one back via own goal the Reds didn’t have the teeth to equalize or go on to win it. The Seagulls intelligently and effectively killed the game in the final minutes to prevent United any meaningful chances.

And now United are heading to Brentford, likely clad in their yet to be unveiled yellow highlighter monstrosity of a third kit, in desperate need of picking up points. The vibes are very bad after another week of little to no transfer activity.

Opposition Strength

Brentford like to attack.

Like others before them coming out of the Championship, Thomas Frank and company weren’t too interested in radically changing their aggressive style of play as a means of staying in the Premier League after promotion. They avoided relegation last season thanks to a decent start and a strong finish. The signing of free agent Christian Eriksen until the end of the season proved to be an excellent addition, and they won 7 of their last 11 games of the season to secure 46 points and a 13th placed finish.

It was a successful stay in the top flight for a club that hadn’t been there in 74 years, but a key member of that team has changed sides. Eriksen’s remarkable return after suffering cardiac arrest last summer at the Euros also made him a target for other clubs after his contract expired. He rejected a return to Brentford in favor of joining Manchester United, where he is now probably equally vital to the midfield.

How did Brentford line up without their talisman from last season? Let’s take a look.

Typically they still played a direct game in their season opener at Leicester. They found themselves 2-0 down to the Foxes after a poorly defended corner and a defensive error that allowed Dewsbury-Hall to smack one in from long distance. Leicester accepted the invitation to shoot from distance on a number of occasions, which may have prevented the buildup towards better chances, but showed how spread thin Brentford were at times in defense.

This was the case for Brentford against Manchester United last season, and while they probably should have won the first meeting comfortably they didn’t capitalize on chances created and left themselves open for counters and quick transitions. Where they can really threaten United however is what got them back into the game against Leicester.

Ivan Toney made it 2-1 after controlling a laser pass from Rico Henry and converting calmly while holding off a defender. Brentford pressed Leicester quickly after a throw in from their own left defensive third and took advantage clinically, something that should be very scary for United considering their poor midfield play and chaotic transition defending.

Their second goal, a beautiful curler from substitute Josh Dasilva, was fitting considering how the match had gone for both teams, and demonstrated the danger that Brentford’s wingers present. They haven’t even brought out new signing Mikkel Damsgaard yet. They are threatening in areas where United are often vulnerable, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Redemption after Week 1 embarrassment

Manchester United were bad against Brighton.

The injury to Anthony Martial a couple days ahead of the match seemed to throw off the game plan. Eriksen as a false 9 left the midfield without a steady hand in possession and left the attack without direction. Ronaldo’s arrival helped a little bit in regard to the latter, but they were down 2-0 by that point and Brighton successfully killed the game off in the closing minutes after conceding.

Erik ten Hag will be anxious to ease some of the tension surrounding the club, and while getting a win against Brentford won’t solve everything it could steady the nerves ahead of a matchup with Liverpool, who had their way with United last season and could very well do so again.

With Martial still injured, this seems to be the best XI for Saturday:

Now, ten Hag may still want to prove a point with Ronaldo, who continues to look for a move out. He’s not a great fit for the side, but it’s not like there are really other options right now. It seems Elanga is unlikely to fit up top for ten Hag, and they need someone who can potentially create opportunities out of nothing and threaten on crosses and set pieces.

United’s midfield looked better when Eriksen dropped deep and took the burden of progression off of Fred and McTominay, both of whom had poor performances. One of them will need to start alongside Eriksen in the pivot though, so we’re going with the *normally more consistent of the two in Fred.

For now the back line should remain the same. There needs to be consistency and chemistry work done to make the center back pairing work, and while Malacia is a potential swap for Shaw there aren’t really any other full back alternatives at the moment unless Wan-Bissaka has suddenly transformed his game over the summer.

The side have to be focused in this one. They can’t afford to give away chances in dangerous areas again because Brentford are a side that punishes that. If they need to, they should embrace playing a bit compact and patiently wait for opportunities to break. Brentford leave space for such attacks, and it’s probably safer than playing a more open game.


Manchester United 2-1 Brentford

Being optimistic last week didn’t end well, but this is my last chance to be hopeful until Week 4 because of the Liverpool game. We’ve seen United handle the Bees even in bad runs of form. I don’t expect it to be a cakewalk, but I think the urgency gives them a push to seal their first three points of the season and move on.