Manchester United stopped talk of a potential walk-out demonstration by beating Brentford 3-0 in Ralf Ranignick’s final home game as interim manager.
The pre-match talk before the Monday Night Football clash surrounded fan protests outside Old Trafford, with the idea of a 73rd-minute walk-out devised by a group of fans.
But goals from Bruno Fernandes, a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty and Raphael Varane quashed talk of fan unrest in their final home game of the season – with the protest struggling to attract much traction.
On the pitch, United and Brentford produced a thrilling tie that saw both sides go full throttle with fast-paced attacks and high defensive lines – right from the very first whistle.
Brentford could have opened the scoring in the opening seconds. A slick kick-off routine saw Christian Eriksen play in Bryan Mbuemo down the right but a last-ditch challenge from Alex Telles denied the Bees forward. Then United got round the back of Brentford two times in quick succession. Diogo Dalot’s expert ball found Ronaldo through on goal, but the Portuguese forward then lost his footing and the chance fell away.
But Ronaldo’s Portuguese team-mate Fernandes eventually made amends. Anthony Elanga was released down the right and the Swedish attacker had the simple task of finding the midfielder in the penalty area to tap past David Raya.
Despite falling behind, Brentford responded well and there was no surprise that Eriksen was at the heart of their good play. The Danish midfielder tested David de Gea with a rasping drive, before crossing for Ivan Toney in the penalty area, but the Bees’ top scorer headed over when he should have done better.
Back came United and Ronaldo tried to take the game by the scruff of the neck. United’s No 7 had a penalty call turned away when he went down under Mads Roerslev’s challenge, before setting up Juan Mata who could only fire wide.
The same duo – with a combined age of 71 – linked up again just before the half-time whistle, with Ronaldo slotting past Raya after the seemingly-departing Mata raced down the left on a counter-attack. But VAR stepped in to keep the difference between the two teams to one, via a marginal offside call.
The second period began in similar fashion, with clear-cut chances within the first four minutes. First, Toney fired over when found completely unmarked at the back post from Eriksen’s free-kick, before Dalot hit the bar after being played through by Ronaldo, who was flagged offside after the chance had gone.
The end to end saga continued. Brentford’s high line was once again exploited when Matic clipped the ball to Fernandes who ran through, but United’s goalscorer dragged his effort wide.
Then Eriksen’s swerving free-kick tested De Gea, who had to palm the effort away from down low. From a resulting corner, Toney was found in acres of space in the area but United’s goalkeeper kicked away his effort that was heading into the opposite corner.
- Manchester United brought in Juan Mata for Marcus Rashford in what looks like the Spaniard’s final home game at Old Trafford. Edinson Cavani was only fit enough for the bench.
- Brentford welcomed back Kristoffer Ajer and Christian Norgaard from injury in place of Saman Ghoddos and Mathias Jensen.
Brentford were made to pay for their missed chances. Ronaldo refused to give up on a long ball forward and muscled Rico Henry off the ball, before winning a penalty off the Bees left-back.
After Fernandes missed against Arsenal last weekend, Ronaldo took penalty duties back in control to get the goal his endeavours on the night deserved.
And it wasn’t long until United got their third through Varane, who struck home from a corner via a wicked deflection off Henry and past Raya.
That result-clinching third came just two minutes before the planned protest, with Old Trafford a very feel-good environment after a wretched season – as it closes its doors for the summer.
- Manchester United: De Gea 6; Dalot 4, Lindelof 6, Varane 7, Telles 5; McTominay 6, Matic 8; Mata 8, Fernandes 8, Elanga 7; Ronaldo 9
- Subs: Fred 6, Cavani n/a, Jones n/a
- Brentford: Raya 4; Roerslev 5, Ajer 5, Jansson 5, Sorensen 5, Henry 4; Norgaard 6, Janelt 5, Eriksen 7; Mbuemo 6, Toney 5
- Subs: Jensen 6, Dasilva 6, Wissa n/a
- MOTM: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
How United’s protest fell flat
Analysis from Sky Sports’ Sam Blitz at Old Trafford:
Well after all the talk and discussions of disgruntlement, Man Utd fans chose to stand by their team.
Raphael Varane’s goal for United, around two minutes before the protest was due to take place, may have helped swing some fans to stay in their seats – but there was very little impact from the few who did walk out.
While the demonstration fell short, the supporters’ condemnation of the Glazers was still forthright. Chants of “Love United, Hate the Glazers” were regular, while green and yellow flares were let off with anti-owner banners aplenty.
So, what do Manchester United fans want? Well, Monday night’s entire spectacle – result aside – justifies their complaints. Old Trafford is set up for major domestic and European occasions at this part of the season, instead they’re playing dead rubber encounters with nothing to play for. The short and not-so-sweet lap of appreciation after full-time summed it up – there’s been nothing to appreciate this season.
But there’s also a request to integrate a real culture at United from next season. Just what are Manchester United at the moment?
Fans want the ownership and the club hierarchy to get a balanced squad in place to challenge for the best honours. This group of players, packed full of sensational names, still feels unbalanced. United’s three stand out players were Cristiano Ronaldo, Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic. The last two are heading out the door, the other is being asked a lot of at 37 years of age.
Then there’s the playing style. Erik Ten Hag will want them to play out from the back, but Monday night showed that there are problems in that department.
Brentford effectively pressed United into several errors, with Diogo Dalot guilty of multiple failed backpasses to the uncertain David de Gea. Bruno Fernandes was guilty of similar misplaced passes after the break, showing this problem is more than just individuals.
United showed defensive frailties off the ball as well, right from Bryan Mbuemo nearly running through after 15 seconds, to far too much space being given to the likes of Christian Eriksen and Ivan Toney at times.
Ultimately, better sides – including most of Europe’s elite – would have exploited this United team with similar displays to Monday night, so there’s a long way to go in this rebuilding process. The patient yet frustrated fans need patience in their requests for reform. While the Glazers will get the blame, those in charge of recruitment have a major job on their hands with Ten Hag at the wheel.
The directors’ box was filled with major figures. Football director John Murtough, head of first-team development Justin Cochrane, chief executive Richard Arnold – these are the major figures behind United’s potential revival.
Rangnick: Man Utd need to strengthen everywhere bar GK
The lap of appreciation saw United bid farewell to their home fans for the summer – but the jury is still out on those who will return to Old Trafford in August.
Question marks lie over several members of United’s first-team squad – with Mata, Matic, Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard seeing their contracts run out at the end of next month. United interim boss Rangnick, who is set to step into a backroom consultancy role, says everywhere needs improvement – barring the goalkeeper spot.
Rangnick told Sky Sports: “Apart from goalkeeping where we have three excellent goalkeepers in Tom Heaton, Dean Henderson and David de Gea, in all other areas there will be players leaving the club. I wouldn’t put focus on special areas of the pitch it should go through the whole team.
“It’s obvious quite a few players will leave and there is a need for top-quality players. I strongly believe that if everyone works together we can bring Man Utd back to where we need to be.
“Other clubs only needed two or three transfer windows to challenge but from now on we need to bring in top-quality players who really help raise the level. If this happens then I don’t think it should take too long.”
The win over Brentford was the biggest win United managed under the German interim, leaving Rangnick to rue a lack of consistency which has seen them miss out on Champions League football.
“I’m not completely happy with those six months,” the 63-year-old told his press conference. “I expected us to qualify for the Champions League. That was the goal we had, but we were not consistent enough.
“We had two or three breaks [in my time in charge]. One of them we had hardly any players there [due to coronavirus]. We were also not able to bring in any new players in January. I would have hoped and expected we won more points. We could easily have had eight or 10 points more.”
While Rangnick looked at the bigger picture, Brentford boss Thomas Frank was focusing on the final details. Two moments he spoke about were Rico Henry’s error for United’s second goal – and three big chances missed by Ivan Toney.
“We made a stupid mistake for the penalty, that killed the game off,” said Frank. “I think Rico is one of the best defensive full backs this season. I don’t think I’ve seen a player go past him in a one v one situation.
“Knowing [Toney], I know he’ll be disappointed. He had three good opportunities, maybe not for three goals but at least one. We know in a game like this, we need to take it but he couldn’t do it.”
Manchester United will now end their season with two away trips. The first is away to Brighton on May 7, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm, before their trip to Crystal Palace on the final matchday of the season.
Brentford host Southampton next weekend, before travelling to relegation-threatened Everton on May 15. Their last game of the season sees them host Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United in west London.