Erik ten Hag will mark it down as a turning point. You sometimes need to comprehend things and give them meaning that goes beyond what would seem logical. But when the 96 minute time limit came to an end, Old Trafford erupted in a way that had not been heard all season as Harry Maguire flicked on and Scott McTominay headed home.
Never mind that the unsung McTominay and Maguire were the unlikely heroes of the day. Three minutes earlier, Erik ten Hag in particular and this United team were on their way to a great deal of humiliation and a roar of jeers. They hadn’t dropped three straight games at home in any competition since 1962-63. Here, they were dangerously near to breaking that mark.
Up until Thomas Strakosha’s parried shot from Diogo Dalot in the 93rd minute, Brentford had done relatively nothing wrong. It was up to McTominay to equalize in the first portion of his Super Man routine, spinning and shooting like a quick Latin American. Old Trafford erupted at that point, mostly out of relief since another home loss after losses to Galatasaray and Crystal Palace would have been more than enough to light a fire. The atmosphere at this directionless club is always ready to turn nasty.
The equalizer thus prevented that. Who won, though? That, however, was a direct quote from an old United playbook. You recall? long ago, the team that never gave up and always scored. Although the stakes may be smaller now—it was Brentford 2023 instead of Barcelona 1999—the emotions remained the same. The endorphin rush was strong enough to drown out the negative, subdue the aggressiveness, and restore this club’s faith.
Of course, in the upcoming weeks, the validity of this event will be examined. Was this just a quick fix for Ten Hag’s feelings, a way to buy him some time, or the beginning of the rest of the season? For the majority of this match, there was one team at Old playing confidently to a cohesive tactical plan and one which seemed increasingly lost, a group of people urgently seeking a leader and some scheme. Brentford will regret their collapse towards the end.
Just how confused and lacking in confidence United are was made clear by the first goal, which was scored after 28 minutes. They lost ground as a result of an action that began with their own free kick. Casemiro cringed under a challenge from the unstoppable Bryan Mbeumo, who won the ball back, as they played it out from the box.
Even at that point, Casemiro had another opportunity to prove himself, but he failed the tackle. While United were retreating, Mbeumo passed the ball on to Wissa, and if it weren’t for Victor Lindelof, who appeared to be a “round peg in a square hole” at left back, they could have survived. The Swedish player deflected Wissa’s half-shot back to the striker before moving it to Mathias Jensen, who was standing just inside the area. Again, his shot wasn’t the best, but as Andre Onana dove to his right, it appeared that he was more concerned with palming the ball away than with using the principles of saving it. Because of this, a shot that was clearly saveable bounced over him for a score of 1-0.
The second half was demonstrably better, though largely because Brentford reverted to a non possession containment game and they’re very good at that. United looked more coherent but partly because Brentford allowed them to be. Once again, the visitors packed the central areas, effectively played a back five. And United’s best chances came from long-range strikes, So there was sub Christian Eriksen’s thunderous shot on 53 minutes, parried by Thomas Strakosha. Then Rasmus Hojlund, closer in on a goal but wider, and smashing his shot into the side netting 64 minutes. The best move of unpicking the defence came on 76 minutes, Dalot and Amrabat working the ball to Alejandro Garnacho and his shot just over fell firmly into the ‘have to hit the target’ category. And even so, perhaps the best save of the second half came from Onana, diving athletically to tip away Neal Maupay’s drive.
The players you assemble at United, the management, or the strategies they use don’t seem to matter. They appeared destined to journey forever and never arrive, much like Odysseus. There is an obvious institutional failing, but it is not because they haven’t spent money or hired managers who don’t appear up to the job. Simply said, Manchester City has the antithesis of the Midas Touch—everything they touch comes out badly, as Gary Neville memorably put it.
Hojlund isn’t a poor player, but playing for United could harm his promising career. Although Casemiro has five Champions League championships, his control of midfield was so shaky that he had to be replaced at halftime. Last year’s Champions League final saw Onana win player of the match, but at United, he is already a liability. David de Gea is still available and unsigned by a club, so let ten Hag know. That level of desperation was apparent. By the time it was all over, however, Onana was grinning widely on top of the mass of bodies clambering up McTominay to celebrate a notable victory. Maybe everything will work out. It had that impression. However, emotions pass swiftly.