Erik ten Hag said he could have withdrawn all of his “naive” players at half-time after a catalog of errors saw them 4-0 down at the break against Brentford.
In a stunning first half in intense heat in west London, Manchester United produced one of their worst performances in 30 years of Premier League play – with Ten Hag’s error-laden side failing to no favors to his new manager.
Goalkeeper David de Gea let Josh Dasilva’s single shot crawl under his body at the near post after 10 minutes before the keeper’s pass sent former Brentford player Christian Eriksen into trouble, with Mathias Jensen taking possession in the box repair for a simple finish (18).
The Bees managed to double that advantage before half-time, with Ben Mee leaping over Lisandro Martinez to head home on his home debut (30) before Ivan Toney fed Bryan Mbuemo to complete a counterattack dazzling for their fourth after just 35 minutes. .
Cristiano Ronaldo – recalled to the starting lineup – wasted three chances in a result that leaves Ten Hag’s side bottom of the Premier League with zero points, with Liverpool their next opponent at Old Trafford in nine days. Monday night football.
- Brentford: Raya 7; Roerslev 7, Jansson 7, Mee 8; Hickey 7 (under Sorensen 79 n/a), Norgaard 7 (Onyeka 79 n/a), Jensen 8, Dasilva (Janelt 62 6) 7, Henry 7; Mbuemo 9 (Wissa 73, 6), Toney 9
- Unused submarines: Strakhosa, Ghoddos, Lewis-Potter, Damsgaard
- Manchester United: De Gea 3; Dalot 5, Maguire 4, Martinez (Varane h/t) 3, Shaw (Malacia h/t) 4; Fred 3 (McTominay h/t), Fernandes 3, Eriksen 3 (Van de Beek 88 n/a); Sancho 4 (Elanga 60), Ronaldo 5, Rashford 4
- Unused submarines: Heaton, Wan-Bissaka, Garner, Garnacho
Asked about his triple substitution at half-time, which saw him take out defenders Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw alongside Fred, Ten Hag said: “I changed three, but I could have changed them all. “We wanted to bring some new energy into the game, there was nothing specific to whoever we replaced because I don’t think that’s it for them.”
“It’s naive, how we played today, we have to play more direct. We said to ourselves: invite them to [to press] and play for a long time. We lured them, the space was high up in the field and we had to choose that option. That’s what we couldn’t do. It’s definitely not good. This is not the norm on how we want to act.
“You can have a plan, but we put the plan in the trash. It has nothing to do with tactics – the first two goals. It’s about managing the ball. It’s one. And two, the decisions.
“They followed my instructions but they made bad decisions. It’s football, it’s a game of mistakes and we were punished.”
How Man Utd shot themselves in the foot
United’s problems from back to front were laid bare from the first whistle. In goal, De Gea remained red-faced – and that had nothing to do with the intense 32-degree heat that battered west London at kick-off.
Dasilva formed to shoot with his weaker right foot, but De Gea couldn’t organize his body to block the tame effort. Eight minutes later, Ten Hag’s defense and midfield tried to draw Brentford in from behind – but could not produce the quality needed to stop those who swarmed to get them.
Eriksen was foiled by his former midfield teammate Jensen in the penalty area, with the Brentford No.8 getting in before rolling the ball past a wrong-footed De Gea.
To complete the set in the first half, United’s attack produced very little to test David Raya, even with Ronaldo’s recall starting up front. The 37-year-old produced a few snaps that Raya both held and let fly safely above his bar.
Another stunning five-minute spell put the game well and truly past United after just 35 minutes. Debutant Mee showed more tenacity than Martinez at the far post to nod in an effective Brentford corner.
Then, as United tried to claim some sort of way back into the game, Brentford hit them on the break. Toney raced to find Mbuemo in the middle, who took on a late challenge from Luke Shaw from behind to head the ball past De Gea.
Ten Hag appeared to show his disapproval at halftime with a triple substitution. Tyrell Malacia, Scott McTominay and Raphael Varane replaced Martinez, Shaw and Fred – and there were some minor improvements after the break.
Ronaldo had two excellent chances to pull a goal back as Dalot twice found it in plenty of penalty area space – but headed wide and then over.
Eriksen himself went close twice as he headed straight for Raya before firing a shot wide from inside the box. But Brentford managed to keep United at bay – and didn’t need to get out of second gear after half-time.
Analysis: What must Eriksen be thinking?
Sky Sports’ Sam Blitz at the Gtech Community Stadium:
Brentford have spent most of this summer waiting to see if Eriksen will join them or trying to find his replacement. That’s exactly what they did when they signed Mikkel Damsgaard on Wednesday – and now they’ve left the Dane who kept them.
What must Eriksen be thinking after this performance? How did he go from being a club icon at Brentford to being embroiled in this embarrassment?
The difference in quality between the two teams – from the front of the field to the back – between the two teams is striking. Raya looked like he knew what he was doing at every turn as De Gea tossed the ball into the net. Maguire and Martinez didn’t look for the fight while Pontus Jansson and Ben Mee made their presence felt throughout. Up front, Brentford showed the clinical finishing that Ronaldo and co couldn’t.
Yet it was in midfield that Eriksen and United were bullied. Ten Hag surprisingly settled with the normally attacking Fred at the base, with Eriksen and Fernandes either side of him. Dalot and Shaw came into midfield to support them – but that just left Maguire and Martinez exposed.
The individual battle in midfield was chalk and cheese. Fred was unable to protect the back four and was therefore taken off at half-time, just as Norgaard organized the Brentford back line expertly with well-timed tackles or even tactical fouls. Fernandes couldn’t compare the chances of Jensen and Dasilva – while Eriksen’s involvement in Brentford’s second goal told you all you need to know.
However, the comparisons between the two teams go far beyond the pitch. Brentford select their players through a specific recruitment program which allows them to discover gems like Jensen and Mbuemo from Europe.
Ten Hag faces an impossible task
Sky Sports’ Dan Sansom at the Gtech Community Stadium:
Criticizing Manchester United has become a weekly occurrence. There’s no denying they’ve been bad for a while, but just when it looked like it couldn’t get any worse, Brentford came along.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was apparently the problem. Then it was Ralf Rangnick. Now Erik ten Hag is in the spotlight. The Dutchman, who is undoubtedly an excellent coach given his success with Ajax, faces an almost impossible task in Manchester. His players just aren’t good enough. He needs more signatures, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get them.
Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing in west London flattered United. Brentford may have only managed four shots on target in the first half – all of which went – but it could easily have been in double figures. The hosts worked, muscled and outclassed their opponents.
The statistics couldn’t be more damning either. The result means United have lost four consecutive league games for the first time since February 1979. They also lost seven consecutive away league games for the first time since losing 10 on the rebound between September and December 1936.
There have been embarrassing defeats before – Brighton comes to mind last season – but this one at Brentford was the worst of the lot.
Despite the score and the performance, United supporters are convinced that Ten Hag is the man who will turn their team’s fortunes around.
At 4-0, the away supporters – as they always do – remained in full voice. The chants of “Erik ten Hag’s Army” are alive for now. But he has yet another reminder of the mess he’s inherited since taking charge this summer.
“I’m convinced I’m going to do it – I’ve done it everywhere,” he said sky sports Friday in response to a question about how much time he needs to bring back the glory days at Old Trafford.
But the 52-year-old became the first manager to lose each of his first two games in charge of United since John Chapman in November 1921.
He has the biggest job in football. And the first signs are not good.
United are last in the Premier League. It couldn’t happen, could it? Well, ask yourself this question: is there a team worse than them in the division?