Remarkable Rashford guides uninspiring United to victory

After falling behind Newcastle United in the race for the top four, Erik Ten Hag’s Manchester United side knew that three points against Brentford would be crucial if they were to maintain hopes of Champions League qualification. With their opponents also surprise candidates for Europe’s elite competition, Old Trafford was set to play host to a fiercely-contested game under the lights.

MUN: De Gea; Shaw, Martinez, Varane, Dalot; Sabitzer, McTominay; Sancho, Fernandes, Antony; Rashford

BRE: Raya; Henry, Mee, Pinnock, Jansson, Roerslev; Jensen, Norgaard, Damsgaard; Toney, Mbuemo

With both sides desperately chasing European football, you’d have been forgiven for expecting a higher intensity, especially with Brentford having played some magnificent football this season. However, the Bees barely created a meaningful chance to worry United and their usual ferocity in front of goal was missing. This allowed the Red Devils to be comfortable, particularly playing out from the back. Erik Ten Hag’s side will feel happy, as they weren’t at that their best but still managed to get the job done – despite only three of their eighteen shots being on target.

There wasn’t much to take away from the first half though, as Brentford’s press lasted all of 10 minutes. From that point onwards, United were practically camped in the Bees’ half. The hosts lacked the flamboyant swagger that we’re used to seeing them play with this season – and some selfishness from Antony in the first half saw plenty of wasted chances. It felt like United were going to be frustrated trying to unlock Brentford’s defence until the 27th minute, when the Brazilian redeemed himself by lobbing a ball from a cleared corner over to Marcel Sabitzer – who teed it up with a nice header for Marcus Rashford to place into the roof of the net.

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The second half was better overall, as Rashford looked to take charge more by looking to create a one-two with his teammates. Generally, United’s patterns of play improved – and Bruno Fernandes picked out a couple of excellent long balls over the top leaving Brentford vulnerable at the back.

Brentford had the best opportunity of the game when Ivan Toney’s beautiful flick-on led to Kevin Schade bearing down on goal – his attempted chip was tame though and he couldn’t level for the Bees. Had Schade tried to place it in the corner it might have been a different story, but you have to give De Gea credit for standing tall and brave, taking the shot to his body. 

For Brentford, they can mark this down as an uncharacteristic performance and just a bad day at the office. Their fans will have nothing to worry about, as I’m sure they’ll return to their usual charismatic performances next time out. United will know they would’ve needed to compete at levels far greater than today had they been playing a tougher opposition, but a top four spot still looks to be on the cards for Erik Ten Hag’s side.