Sport

Brentford turn up the heat on dismal Manchester United in 4-0 humiliation

Manchester United are in crisis. There can be little doubt. Beyond the bare statistics of becoming the first United manager to lose their first two matches since 1921 and presiding over the worst start to a Premier League season in 30 years, Erik ten Hag’s reputation is already tattered. He will need to be an exceptional manager, a man of considerable moral courage, to recover from this.

Beads of sweat glistening on his bare head, London evening sun beat down on the Dutchman as Brentford tore United asunder, gleefully taking them apart in the first half. It was as bad as anything produced in the dog days of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjær, and far worse than any performance under Ralf Rangnick, the much-derided immediate predecessor.

But it was still a familiar story. The wrongs of previous seasons are leagues away from being righted and though fans may bay for clear-outs and fresh blood, two of Ten Hag’s additions in Lisandro Martínez and Christian Eriksen played full roles in the disaster.

That United’s problems run yet deeper was reflected by continuing protests against the Glazer ownership in the away end though the absentee Floridian billionaires were not on the pitch during the two appalling performances that have begun this Premier League season. Neither did they pick a team that operated as disinterested satellites from each other.

“I asked them to play with belief and take responsibility, that is what they didn’t do,” said Ten Hag. “I have to give them belief, but they have to give it by themselves.” There appears little unity to go around, even if there was plenty of blame. A snarling Cristiano Ronaldo was only too happy to level it, and he blanked both Ten Hag and the away fans at full time.

At least there would be no repeat of the great man’s pouting on the bench, as seen last week against Brighton. Instead, Scott McTominay was the sole player to be dropped from an opening weekend disappointment that now resembles happy, optimistic times.

Alongside McTominay’s erstwhile partner in crime, Fred, Eriksen played the deep, central midfield role from which he helped haul Brentford to safety last season, with notably less success. A vocal minority of home fans were in unforgiving mood for his choice of Manchester over west London, his early touches booed, and hearty reminders of the scoreline.

Josh Dasilva’s goal had rescued a point at Leicester last Sunday and he got the nod, a team selection from Thomas Frank paying off in a fashion Ten Hag can only dream of. He must envy their energy and application, too. Brentford played their usual, athletic game, pressing hard, making full use of set-pieces, of which they were offered plenty by United’s persistent fouling in utter desperation.

“We knew the high press would affect them,” said the excellent Ivan Toney. “It was clear to see that if you work hard, you get the result.” Mathias Jensen, dominant in midfield, said: “It felt like we were on top of everything.”

“We looked at what Brighton did well against them,” said Frank. “We knew we had that weapon.”

Dasilva’s long-range opener came through a combination of aggression, submissiveness and incompetence. Jensen easily robbed Ronaldo and De Gea made a not uncharacteristic mistake. For all his regular brilliance, the Spaniard is prone to clangers. The ball having trickled over the line, he buried his head in the turf.

“I’m just taking my responsibility today,” said De Gea, accepting responsibility. “I think I cost three points for my team. It was a poor performance from myself.”

De Gea was not alone in ineptitude. Far from it. Harry Maguire was only saved from a red card when bringing down Toney because Martínez was on the crime scene. And as United uncomfortably attempted to play the ball out from a goal-kick, Eriksen was played into trouble by Martínez. Jensen stole in for the second.

Just 18 minutes played and Ronaldo barking at his teammates while Brentford fans were predicting Ten Hag would be “sacked in the morning”. Thirteen minutes later, Ben Mee stooped at the back post to score after Toney nodded a corner across. The next was simpler yet, Jensen robbing Jadon Sancho in the box, releasing Toney, who played in Bryan Mbeumo as Brentford sailed through unchecked.

Ten Hag’s half-time reaction, his attempt to lift the shell shock, was to remove the hapless Martínez and Luke Shaw, and swap McTominay in for Fred. United looked a little more solid, though still fragile, their attacking still hapless.

They at least enjoyed some territory. Ronaldo’s first chances both came from Diogo Dalot crosses and he beat the turf in anger after heading both over. He was soon found dropping deep as he attempted to make something, anything happen, perhaps rescue his own evening with a goal.

Eriksen forced the first save of the match from the Brentford goalkeeper, David Raya, with a weak header, as the home side sat back on their gaping advantage, able to savour the occasion. Jensen, Mbeumo and Dasilva left the field to deserved standing ovations on a famous Brentford day, a first defeat of United since 1938 that will live long in the memory. The celebrations afterwards were riotous and lengthy.

For Ten Hag, and all those hoping Manchester United can one day revive, this will linger as a fevered nightmare, a new yet familiar low.