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Brentford 4-0 Manchester United: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear

How bad can things get?

Brentford FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It feels like we’ve used the ‘most embarrassing game in United’s history’ line a lot in recent times, but today really did take the biscuit. Manchester United went down 4 [four]-0 to Premier League relegation candidates Brentford on a sunny Saturday afternoon afternoon in south-west London, delivering an utterly disastrous performance that means clouds are gathering above Erik ten Hag just two games into his United tenure.

It was a performance that revealed a serious and potentially irreconcilable incompatibility between ten Hag’s uncompromising tactical system and the technical attributes (or lack thereof) of United’s playing personnel. Time and again Brentford’s high pressing exposed the inability of David de Gea, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot to play out from the back, compounded by some particularly dire shot-stopping from United’s goalkeeper. Suffice to say, Dean Henderson will be sleeping soundly tonight.

Brentford were already on top when they opened the scoring just ten minutes into the match. The Bees buzzed incessantly around United’s hapless back line, and won possession deep in their visitors’ half. The ball popped out to Josh Dasilva, whose low, tame shot should’ve been comfortably gathered, but instead it squeezed between the palms of a pitiful de Gea for 1-0.

United’s defence continued to gift possession to their opponents, and it cost them again eight minutes later. De Gea inexplicably tried to build out with a short pass to Christian Eriksen—thrust into the deep-lying playmaker role after last week’s disastrous curtain-raiser against Brighton—apparently oblivious to the fact that the Dane was swamped by two Brentford attackers. Mathias Jensen snaffled possession, took a touch, and buried the ball in the back of the net.

It took until just past the half-hour before Brentford scored their third. This time it came from a deep corner, which was flicked back across the six-yard box by Ivan Toney. Rather worryingly, United’s diminutive new centre-half Lisandro Martínez was bullied in the box by his Brentford counterpart Ben Mee, who brushed off a weak challenge to nod home at the far post.

Four minutes later, Brentford netted their fourth—all within the game’s first 35 minutes. Capitalising on United’s unwisely high line, they transitioned from defence into attack with a long ball to Toney, lurking high in the left channel. He brought the ball down expertly, and squared a brilliant pass for the onrushing Bryan Mbeumo, who held off Luke Shaw to fire past de Gea.

Ten Hag made three changes at the interval, introducing Tyrell Malacia, Scott McTominay and Raphaël Varane—who surely has to start every game while fit—for Shaw, Martínez and Fred. De Gea might have been relieved that Tom Heaton is still waiting for his United debut, 20 years after he first signed for the club as a schoolboy. With no discernible improvement in performance, the anonymous Jadon Sancho was hooked and Anthony Elanga introduced on the hour.

Brentford remained marginally the greater attacking threat, but the second half quickly fizzled out into stalemate. United saw plenty of possession, but did very little with it. Donny van de Beek was introduced, but far too late to have any impact on the game. United failed to seriously test Brentford keeper David Raya, with Thomas Frank’s side doing an excellent job of preserving their four-goal lead. Make no mistake, this was a highly impressive performance from the Bees, but one abetted by an utterly abject display from just about everyone in a United shirt.