Manchester United head to Premier League newcomers, Brentford for the first time in league competition since 1947 as they continue to falter in their pursuit of a top-four finish.
Ralf Rangnick would have been largely pleased with his start to life at the club from a results-based perspective prior to the disappointing 1-0 loss at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, performances have been massively lacking and as a manager who strives for perfection, he’ll be well aware much improvement is needed after dropping two points from a winning position at Villa Park.
Despite the underwhelming performances United have only lost once under the German and have at least stopped the flood of goals they were conceding under predecessor, Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
As mentioned previously, performances have not been as encouraging as they could have been and dropping points to the likes of Newcastle United and only just edging past Norwich City has hardly given fans much to shout about. Nonetheless, the Red Devils have managed to progress in both the Champions League (prior to Rangnick’s arrival) and the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa.
United started incredibly well at Aston Villa in their Premier League meeting on Saturday evening creating several chances in the opening minutes allowing Bruno Fernandes to break the deadlock after a shocking goalkeeping error from Emiliano Martinez in just the 6th minute. But the performance began to dwindle in the second half even once Bruno doubled his tally as the players tired and Villa adjusted to United’s setup. This led to defensive errors allowing Jacob Ramsey and Phillipe Coutinho to find space in the box and bring the game back to a 2-2 draw in spite of United’s first-half dominance.
Players and manager alike will be hoping to build on that first-half display as they sit seventh in the table behind both North London clubs and West Ham as they battle for a Champions League spot. United visit Brentford Community Stadium, where The Bees have secured points against the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal and only narrowly losing to runaway league leaders, Manchester City.
The highs of their return to the top flight have worn off in recent weeks with a combination of Covid-19 cases and injuries to key players seeing them concede plenty and struggle to pick up points with their last league win coming on December 10th against relegation strugglers, Watford.
Brentford have lost four of their last five games with their two most recent fixtures ending in 3-0 and 4-1 defeats to Liverpool and Southampton respectively. They still sit comfortably in 14th and 10 points clear of the relegation spots. Despite their relatively secure league position, they have failed to beat any of the sides currently placed in the bottom three, only managing to gain a point at St James’ Park.
Their early season form suggested their first season in the Premier League could rival Sheffield United’s 2019/20 season but recent results have proven otherwise, however, they’ll no doubt be hoping to repeat the success of the Blades in claiming three points against the 20-time champions.
Ralf Rangnick’s potential options will be boosted by Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw returning from suspension. In addition, the German is also hopeful leading scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo, will be back fit in time for his side’s trip to West London.
However, the latest news suggests that Shaw has not travelled.
Paul Pogba remains unavailable but has returned to full training. Fellow countryman, Anthony Martial is back in the travelling squad after not being in the squad to face Villa.
Marcus Rashford will likely be back in the matchday squad after sustaining a dead leg in training prior to the Villa game.
For the Bee’s, Mathias Jorgensen is still out of action. Meanwhile, Frank Onyeka is on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. Josh Desilva played 45 minutes on Monday evening for Brentford B’s on his return from a long term injury.
First choice goalkeeper, David Raya, remains out due to a serious knee injury, as well as Charlie Goode and Julian Jeanvier.
Ones to Watch
Bruno Fernandes looked sharper and more disciplined in the previous game showing a willing intensity to press at the right times while also providing the game-changing moments he was known for in his first season and a half at the club. The Portuguese will be looking to continue to add to his goal contributions after a brace on Saturday.
Scott McTominay’s return could also prove crucial with Brentford renowned for their pressing and intense physical game. The Scot’s powerful running and ability to get around the pitch will be needed to stop opposition attacks and contribute to United’s as he’s shown with goals against Burnley and Aston Villa.
Thomas Frank will be looking to Bryan Mbeumo and Ivan Toney to make an impact for his side offensively with the former scoring a hat-trick to help his side progress in the FA Cup. Toney will be aiming to get back on the scoresheet too as he continues to try to get himself back up to speed after suffering with knocks and Covid-19. David de Gea’s return to form has been crucial in helping United pick up points this season and this could be another occasion where the Spaniard is regularly called into action.
Predicted line-up (4-3-3)
David de Gea;
Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles;
Scott McTominay, Fred, Bruno Fernandes;
Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford;
Biggest test yet?
Manchester United have shown glimpses of their potential quality under Rangnick as the players continue to work on the training to adjust to his method and style of play. But with the ‘Godfather of the Gegenpress’ fast approaching ten games in charge, results and performances are yet to show any consistent, significant improvement.
As Brentford have proven in their top-flight adventure so far, they’re more than capable of competing with the big boys so a comfortable win could go a long way to building the confidence and momentum required to remain in touching distance of the top four.
With Rangnick and his coaching staff settled and the season now past the halfway point, it is paramount United start consistently picking up three points if 2021/22 is to be a success and not peter out like 2019/20.