Losing To Brentford Saved Man United's Season, Now Beating Them Can Do The Same

Manchester United lost 4-0 to Brentford back in August
12:00, 05 Apr 2023

On 13th August 2022, Brentford beat Manchester United 4-0. It was the sort of result that seemed unthinkable when The Bees were toiling in League One as recently as 2014. In fact, it felt pretty unthinkable on the day. The fact that a team containing Cristiano Ronaldo, Christian Eriksen, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford was effortlessly carved up in 35 first half minutes. It was a mauling, but it was also a turning point. Now United prepare to welcome their conquerors to Old Trafford on Wednesday night, looking in need of another watershed moment.

The Brentford destruction last summer focused the minds at Old Trafford. Occurring in Erik ten Hag’s second official game as manager, the defeat set the tone for much of what followed. For starters, it saw the Dutchman begin his conscious uncoupling from Ronaldo. Ten Hag had initially been open to using the mercurial goalscorer, but this defeat was where the cracks started to appear. As Ronaldo’s influence at the club waned and Ten Hag’s only grew, those cracks would grow to a chasm that would see the player leave the club.


This chastening defeat was not just the death knell for Ronaldo’s tenure. It was a sea change for the club as a whole. Coming after an opening day 2-1 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion, the atmosphere was one of doom and gloom around the club. When interim manager Ralf Rangnick had served up some of the most desperately poor football Old Trafford had ever seen, there was still the soothing knowledge that his tenure was only temporary. But now the summer of optimism threatened to give way to a winter of discontent.

But Brentford was treated like a troublesome stop on the journey, rather than the destination. United would win their next four league games, including victories over Liverpool and Arsenal. The old enemy, Manchester City, would thrash them 6-3 but United would then lose just one of their next ten Premier League fixtures.


That momentum largely sustained the Red Devils, helping make them a top four fixture and steering them to victory in the Carabao Cup final. Signature wins over Manchester City and Barcelona have been secured along the way.  While the talk of a title challenge always looked a bit fanciful, Ten Hag’s charges are in the semi finals of the FA Cup and the quarter finals of the Europa League. This could quite easily end up being their best season in a decade. So why does it feel like United need to kickstart their campaign?

United have looked ropey since beating Newcastle United at Wembley to lift their first trophy since 2017. Four wins, two defeats and a draw in all competitions has not quite been enough to get the club’s Twitter mafia tweeting “#TenHagOut”. But factor in the devastating nature of a 7-0 drubbing by the weakest Liverpool side in years. Consider the regression between beating Newcastle in the League Cup and losing to them last weekend. What about the fact none of those four wins came in the league? Suddenly, the picture changes. 

Even in victory, United have often looked underpowered in recent weeks. Circumstances haven’t helped. Casemiro has seen more red than a Deadpool costume convention, displaying a pathological need to get himself suspended. Christian Eriksen has been injured, having been perhaps the club’s most influential midfield passer since Michael Carrick. Despite his often listless displays, the club have clearly missed Anthony Martial. For all Wout Weghorst’s industry, at least the Frenchman does occasionally score goals. Rip two first choice midfielders out of any side and stick a striker who has scored 2 goals in 19 club games up front and they’d struggle. 

But Martial is back from injury and could feature against Brentford. Casemiro returns on 15th April, when the Red Devils play Nottingham Forest. Eriksen has resumed first team training. The pieces of Ten Hag’s puzzle are coming back together. 

But even before Ten Hag has a full complement at his disposal, he cannot afford to let Wednesday’s opportunity slip by. Losing to Brentford started United’s rebuild in earnest. Now a victory over them is needed to make sure it doesn’t go awry. With Ten Hag’s men battling on three fronts, they need all the momentum they can get. If it goes wrong tonight the ramifications won’t be as dramatic as Ronaldo’s public meltdown. But they might be more damaging given the Portugal had ceased to be an asset. If United can’t take the sting out of the Bees at Old Trafford, this most promising of seasons could evaporate before their eyes.

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