De Gea mistake sparks rout
United concede four in 25 first-half minutes
The long Manchester United decline of the last nine years, with its false dawns, its sackings, its much-heralded reboots, and the declarations of optimism that accompany them, can be a complicated story at times but at certain points one is presented with a clarity that is hard to ignore.
Thirty-five minutes into the second game of the reign of Erik ten Hag and the man whose job it is to restore the most troubled institution in elite English football was four goals behind - to Brentford. He had, lest it be overlooked, already lost his first match, to Brighton, and there were a variety of other problems with the summer too numerous to mention. He shaded his eyes in the fierce sunlight of the late evening as if he was trying to discern something out there. Was it a United team, playing in the shirts of unfamiliar green? Or just a collection of famous footballers desperate to be anywhere but here?
Hard to tell for much of an extraordinary first half in which United conceded four goals to a sparkling Brentford, and Ten Hag must have wondered about the choices he made. Somewhere one supposes John Murtough, the club’s beleaguered sporting director, is hunting for a No 6 to help save his new manager but in the meantime Christian Eriksen had a dreadful time deputising.
Lisandro Martinez, a £55 million centre-back, was monstered by Bryan Mbeumo, Ivan Toney and Ben Mee. David De Gea seemed to be closing the door on a lifetime of being United’s best player in a bleak era for the club.
Of course this was Brentford’s day, and Thomas Frank’s day – they were brilliant – but over and again one was drawn back to what was supposed to be Manchester United. It cost them £424 million in transfer fees alone to be this bad, and who knows how much more in wages and agents’ fees.
Ten Hag could have substituted any of them and among the three he removed at half-time was Martinez, a centre-half whose introduction to the English game has been as brutal as for any big-fee defender in memory.
Martinez, of course, is a player Ten Hag chose to join him from Ajax. Perhaps the Argentinian will come good one day but when will that day be?
Beaten by two sides that finished ninth and 13th last season, United now face Liverpool at Old Trafford on Monday, a Liverpool mid-injury crisis but still the Liverpool who have routinely demolished them of late. No new United manager has absorbed the blows that Ten Hag has taken in the last week and it may yet get worse before it gets better.
A dismal green third kit dreamed up by the manufacturer, and a team that was equally unrecognisable from United’s best traditions. Cristiano Ronaldo was back in the side and, as the goals went in, he could be seen trying to rouse his team-mates which is always a sure sign that things are going badly awry.
Among United’s defenders there was no confidence passing out and Luke Shaw was withdrawn at half-time. Eriksen was caught on the turn. Scott McTominay was dropped and then reinstated at the expense of Fred at half-time. Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were predictably anonymous. Bruno Fernandes played in his own void. A problem in every shirt.
There is no easy fix and now United are drowning in the transfer market – Murtough is being chased around airports by television cameras on a mission to try to sign whoever he can. Frenkie de Jong does not want to join and perhaps Turin felt ever more like home for Adrien Rabiot as each minute of this game passed.
With every defeat the game smells United’s growing desperation and will surely make them pay, figuratively and literally. We are not yet at the mid-point in August, the evening sun is still high in the sky and the great crisis club of the last 10 seasons is in crisis again.
Ronaldo left the pitch as he is prone to do – swiftly and complaining to any member of staff who crossed his path, although with little interest in their concerned responses. Harry Maguire was close behind. The team’s biggest name and its captain, both disconnected from the club or their support for their own reasons, and behind them a group of team-mates staring blankly into the away end.
United are bottom of the Premier League, for the first time since August 1992 when the first title season of the Sir Alex Ferguson era briefly backfired. Thirty years on the problems are altogether more serious and twice now Ten Hag’s selection will have caused the gravest of concerns. Against Brighton the dream of a false nine was swiftly dismissed, and in the Brentford demolition the notion of Eriksen as a deep-lying playmaker went the same way. The manager has got it wrong twice now.
It was a first-half collapse of epic proportions that unfolded in so many different ways. The goalkeeper howler, the faltering attempt to break the press, the badly defended high ball and then with ten minutes left of the half, caught wretchedly on the break.
De Gea set the general level of underachievement by letting Josh Dasilva’s shot under his arm on 10 minutes although it was, to an extent, a reflection of the chaos around him. Mathias Jensen had stolen the ball from a ponderous Ronaldo. United were giving away fouls in their own half as if they were unaware of Brentford’s dedication to set-pieces.
Jensen scored the second having stolen the ball from Eriksen with ease. The third goal was another one that needed De Gea to be decisive. No-one won a crucial header at the back post that Toney sent over the head of the United goalkeeper. Martinez was the closest man to Mee at the back post and never got close to winning the ball.
Frank has established a solid gameplan going long and backing themselves to be stronger than United. From defending in their own box, Jensen found Toney out on the left for the fourth goal and the weight and accuracy of his ball into the stride of Bryan Mbeumo told the crowd that it was on.
Poor old Martinez was left flailing behind the striker like a caravan coming loose of its connection and De Gea just stayed in his area. Mbeumo picked his spot beautifully.
McTominay offered some degree of stability to United in midfield but not until the 69th minute did David Raya have to make a save from an Eriksen header. This was United’s best period of the match and they were still not even the better team.
At the final whistle, a small group went over to the away fans in apology. Heading in the other direction was Ronaldo complaining to staff, uninterested in their response but making a point of heading for the tunnel. It could hardly be any worse for the club at which he reluctantly remains.
Brentford 4 Manchester United 0: as it happened
Erik ten Hag speaks
Difficult to me also, a surprise when you start a game like this. When you concede four goals in 35 minutes, it's not possible. So sorry for the fans.
They are good players and they have to take responsibility on the pitch as a team and individuals.
I ask them to play with belief and take responsibility for their performances and that's what they didn't do.
We have to see that [they lack confidence] and we have to work hard on that. The manager is responsible as well, it's the main responsibility and I will work on that but hey have to get that by themselves too [inner steel and belief].
It's about individual mistakes, the first two goals. It can't happen. David is a great goalkeeper but he knows that it can't happen.
Mistakes are part of football but you have to play as a team and act.
I could have changed eight others as well [as the three half-time substitutions].
We are as a team in a difficult process. it's not what we expected but what happens in the past, the last season, is brought into this season and we need to change that.
We need new players, we need quality players and we will do everything to make that happen.
The Neville peroration
These owners have proved they cannot manage a forward-facing football club.
There has been a toxic culture at this club for 10 years since Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill stopped propping them [the Glazers] up.
It's not their money, they've put in, it's borrowed against Manchester United's revenues. They're not like Roman Abramovic or Sheik Mansour or the Saudi Arabians at Newcastle. We four could take over at Manchester united and provide the same amount [by the same method]. It's not them putting their hands in their pockets. It's generated by a magnificent supporter base and a fantastic commercial operation.
We've told the story of these players for 12 moths and we keep saying the same things.
Ralf Rangnick said the club needed open heart surgery but Manchester United have always answered the fans' anger with spending money but no one wants to take their money now, no one wants to come.
There is no leadership, no voice. There's a family over there in America who let their employees take all the flak. Joel Glazer needs to get on a plane and come over here and explain what the hell is his plan for the club. The owners aren't performing. We have a decrepit, rotting stadium. We can look at the players all you like but they [the Glazers] have to show up.
Thomas Frank speaks
It is crazy. It is a fully deserved win against Manchester United, who have top players.
We were aggressive and brave and pressed hard up the pitch and were very good on set pieces.
We have not outplayed one of the top-six teams [so far] so we had to be pragmatic. It doesn’t always go like this, but today it did!
It is amazing how this group of players keep giving me and the fans memories for life.
David de Gea asks to speak to camera
I cost three points to my team today. It was a poor performance from me today after the first mistake. It was horrible today. The first mistake [took the game down a different path to the one we anticipated]. I should have saved the shot and the result would have been different.
We always try to play, they press one against one and I should read the game better [on playing a short pass that led to third goal].
It was an easy save. We have to react much better but it was a poor performance.
In pre-season you play for nothing but when you play a game that matters you need bravery, to be more consistent to be proper players which wasn't my case today. We have to keep working, we have a lot to learn with a new manager. We have to stick together, keep working and learn what the manager wants. We have to play for the badge, play for the club, with our lives.
Look at these running stats
'That's a disgrace,' says Jamie Redknapp on the 14km gulf. 'I've never seen a more abject performance from a club I regard as one of the biggest in the world."
Gary Neville speaks
That Manchester United team don't run hard enough, don't run fast enough but they are drained of all confidence. They are suffering. They need something and that needs to come from above. This is a new low. The reality is that it's really, really bad.
Matias Jensen speaks
It felt like we were on top of everything. They couldn't cope with our pressure, our second balls. It was either me or Josh in the press, trying to be as aggressive as possible against their No6, especially if it was Christian [Erksen].
Ivan Toney speaks
A hundred per cent it's right up there [as the best game of his career]. It was just hard work and the high press. When you work hard you get results. They have great talent but when you work hard and run all over them, it shows what you can achieve.
And to add insult to injury
Still, the last time they lost their opening two games of the season was in 1992-93 and look what they did then. Cantonas do not grow on trees, though.
Popcorn time, I suggest, for the post-match interviews, which we will cover in full here. As written at half-time, Brentford were superb and mauled a hopeless Manchester United side who keep tottering towards a rock bottom they have not yet reached in a year of turmoil.
90+4 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
McTominay has another petulant hack after losing the ball but is saved from a second yellow card by the final whistle.
90+2 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Fernandes jumps in two-footed when he miscontrols a trap but misses his opponent. Yellow card, all the same.
90+1 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Four minutes of added time have been signalled, the torture for Reds almost at an end.
90 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
McTominay shanks a pass straight out of play. He has been hopeless since he's been on.
89 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Rashford fouls Baptiste to stop another Brentford break after a careless surrender of possession. Yellow card.
88 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Eriksen goes off for Van de Beek and is given the bird as he retreats to the bench for spurning Brentford.
87 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Janelt weasels his way into the box from the right, Brentfor continuing their dominance of the second ball, leaves Ronaldo turning his back in resignation and shoots low at the near post. Maguire blocks and Janelt apologises for not squaring it.
85 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Onyeka, who had a bad ankle injury at the end of the last season, seems to be all right. Manchester United guide the Brentford floated free-kick out for a corner.
84 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
McTominay gives the ball away and hacks down Onyeka to limit the damage. Yellow card.
82 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Cross in from the left is met by Eriksen's run towards the near post. He tries to hook a left-foot volley in at the far post but hooks it wide. Short memories as he is serenaded with 'You're f------ s---.'
80 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Sorensen's first touch is a long throw that United head out to the edge of the box. Henry meets it sweetly with a full-blooded volley that is too close to De Gea and the keeper hangs on.
78 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Brentford make their last substitutions: Hickey departs for Sorensen and Onyeka replaces Norgaard.
75 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
"It's a real achievement to spend a billion pounds and be this bad," snorts Gary Neville. "You just need organisation and fight to dismantle this Manchester United side. Get 1-0 up and they're flaky like you wouldn't believe. They're like jelly." Mmm flaky jelly.
75 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Manchester United corner, taken by Eriksen and he can't beat the first man.
73 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Brentford changes: Mebeumo and Jensen are off for a breather, Wissa and Baptiste are on for a trot.
71 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
It would be disingenuous not to point out that to everyone but Manchester United fans, this is hilarious. But there is a poignancy to the defiant shouts of "We'll keep the red flag flying high, Manchester United will never die" when considering what the Glazers have done to their club.
70 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Frank is relentless:
68 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Rashford veers from in to out down the inside-right channel then whips over a cross. Eriksen meets it with a twist of the neck but can't steer it beyond Raya's grasp.
Time for a drinks break.
66 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
United corner after Hickey turns the ball behind. Mee is fouled by Fernandes when defending the cross.
61 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Janelt replaces Josh Dasilva who gets the standing ovation he deserves. This is the sixth time Manchester United have conceded four or more in an away game since August 2021.
61 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Malacia has been United's player of the match in just 15 minutes, making another crucial tackle/block, alert to the danger when Mbeumo creeps into the box from the right.
Elanga replaces Sancho who must have been in witness protection since leaving Dortmund. Old Trafford, where vibrant talent goes to die 2013-2022.
59 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Toney is still running his socks off despite the scoreline. As the commentators point out, that is in stark contrast to the ambling Rashford who is on the other end of four goals.
57 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Malacia blocks Roerslev's cross from the right, on the overlap. Brentford corner. It's floated deep for Toney but Eriksen realises what he's up to and runs around just in time to challenge him and put the ball behind for another corner.
55 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Dalot floats a cross too deep from the right and the ball sails out for a goalkick.
54 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
"In 42 years of watching United," says Gary Neville, "I can't remember a half of football as bad as that."
52 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Good cross from Dalot, swinging it in with his left from the right. Ronaldo makes the near-post run, shakes off his pursuer but flashes his header over the bar.
50 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Ronaldo miscontrols, slips and slaps the ground in self-disgust.
48 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
What was Varane thinking, leaving Real Madrid for this absolute shower? McTominay swings at fresh air when trying to clear the corner, allowing the ball to run to the far post. Toney plays it down the right for Hickey to shoot low and on target. De Gea makes a good save.
46 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Jadon Sancho tries to thread a pass through two Brentford players and Norgaard picks it off and sparks an attack down the left, United's defence are caught dozing - "Rip! Rip! You've been asleep for a hundred years - and Varane has to hack away the cross for a corner.
Manchester United make three changes
Martinez, Shaw and Fred depart. Malacia, Varane and McTominay come on. Each of them taller than the men they replace.
The response from the terraces
Half-time: Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
A terrible first-half performance from Manchester United but we should also stop to praise Brentford's superb performance, the astuteness of their tactics, their impressive endeavour, brilliant execution of the high press and the precision of their passing. They have made Eriksen's life a misery on his return, ganging up on him and bullying Maguire, Martinez and Shaw.
Rashford, Fernandes and Sancho have been in terrible form for the best part of a year and show no sign of a spark to change that positively while De Gea, rattled by his rotten mistake and lack of options when told to play out short from the back, which is not his forte, started to flap. Ronaldo, meanwhile, isn't the problem but he isn't the solution either.
The whole club needs rebuilding, the ownership, the stadium, the recruitment ethos and the team.
It's men v boys.
45+3min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Perhaps Mourinho was right about Shaw. Looking back at Mbeumo's goal, he looked as if he was wading through molasses to strive to keep up.
Brentford free-kick wide on the right. They chip it down the inside-right and Martinez gets there first to prod it behind.
45+1 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Shaw stands up a deep cross straight down Raya's throat.
"Can't think of one [positive] thing Manchester United have done," says Gary Neville, who has been full of praise for Brentford. "Not a pass, a cross or a run."
44 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Brentford's players have covered 41.4km compared with Manchester United's 36.3km. Out come the olés as Brentford showboat a sequence of passing. There will be four added minutes.
42 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
No idea why Manchester United have set up like this against a Brentford team who were bound to swarm over them. Manchester United may have better technical players but not when they're being hounded every time they have a touch.
Rashford jinks down the left, beats one man but not another and Brentford repel the attack.
39 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Injury to Rashford who is clattered by Raya as he chased a long ball up the inside-left channel outside the area. After length treatment after his heavy fall, Rashford resumes.
36 min Brentford 4 Man Utd 0
Manchester United are trapped in the Brentford box, completely undone by a long pass up the left. Toney storms forward up the flank and plays an exquisite pass with the outside of his foot to Mbeumo who burns past the lumbering Shaw and sweeps in a shot from 20 yards. This is scintillating from Brentford against a thoroughly derelict club.
Brentford 4 Manchester United 0 (Mbeumo)
33 min Brentford 3 Man Utd 0
Well, well, well. Manchester United simply cannot cope with Brentford's physical superiority, in strength, height and stamina.
Brentford 3 Manchester United 0 (Mee) A team of shorties is being ripped apart by one that towers over them physically. Jensen whips the corner to the back post, it's headed back across by Dasilva who leapt above his marker. De Gea flapped at it, as did Martinez and Shaw, leaving Mee to head it in with the back of his noggin.
28 min Brentford 2 Man Utd 0
Jensen goes for a hybrid cross shot and De Gea punche sit over to the right. Dasilva picks it up, beats Sancho and is brought down when about to go past Dalot. From the free-kick, Brentford earn a corner ...
26 min Brentford 2 Man Utd 0
Brentford are simply beasting Manchester United in the press and they can't play their way out of it. Fernandes brings Hickey down 22 yards from goal, over to the right. Sloppy beyond belief.
23 min Brentford 2 Man Utd 0
'Sacked in the morning' regales Erik ten Hag as he stands up in his technical area.
Time for the first drinks break.
Brentford 2 Man Utd 0 (Jensen) David de Gea plays the goakick short to Eriksen, obviously under instruction, but the former Brentford player is wared by his old-team-mates, mugged once again and Jensen has a relatively easy right-foot finish from 12 yards. It's as if Brentford have identified Eriksen as a weak link and the playing out from the back tactic as the one to exploit.
17 min Brentford 1 Man Utd 0
Jensen grabs the honour from Mbeumo and chips over the bar.
16 min Brentford 1 Man Utd 0
Maguire plays a short pass to Eriksen who has dropped short, Toney is in like Flynn to rob him and sprints straight at Maguire who brings him down right on the edge of the D. Yellow card. Fairly central.
14 min Brentford 1 Man Utd 0
Good defending from Martinez at the near post thwarts Mbeumo who, alongside Toney, has been relentless in his running and pressing.
Sam Wallace reports from Brentford
The away end at Brentford has the benefit of being in the shade, and the United fans are unfurling anti-Glazer banners as the players come out. They are very much of the homemade variety - someone has donated their bedsheets - but the point is clear. As ever, they want the club's US owners who took over in 2005 to sell up and leave.
12 min Brentford 1 Man Utd 0
Manchester United bomb forward from the kick-off and carve out an immediate opening when Bruno Fernandes plays a slick one-two but then flays a right-foot shot over the bar.
Brentford 1 Man Utd 0 (Dasilva) Came from a Manchester United goalkick. Brentford press and mug Ronaldo of possession. Brentford flood forward, Dasilva tacks over to the right, then wraps his right instep around the ball and shoots low but crisply, too close to De Gea who makes an embarrassing error and lets the ball squirm under him. Ronaldo argues that he was fouled but the referee is not having it.
8 min Brentford 0 Man Utd 0
Another set-piece opportunity to stick it in the mixer when Ronaldo trips Hickey. But Brebtford take it short and try to slip Norgaard down the inside-right. Manchester United let it run out for a goalkick.
6 min Brentford 0 Man Utd 0
Jensen hurls a long throw into the box. Toney towers over the Red Devil diddymen and wins the flick-on. Mee tries to pounce but United usher it safely behind for a corner which they manage to defend despite the imbalance in height.
4 min Brentford 0 Man Utd 0
Bruno Fernandes plays a one-tow with Ronaldo who cuts his right foot across the ball to shoot from 25 yards, he ball dipping but not skidding off the turf, making it easier for Raya to gather.
2 min Brentford 0 Man Utd 0
Definitely looks like a back four for Brentford but with Hickey ahead of Roerslev. Manchester United appeal for a penalty when Ronaldo goes down just outside the box after he controlled the ball, back to goal. Nothing doing.
1 min Brentford 0 Man Utd 0
Manchester United kick off, attacking towards the Thames. Pitch looks in remarkably good nick. Manchester United work it up the right with Dalot but a miscontrol of a chipped pass by Sancho gives Brentford a throw-in.
Out come the teams
Cue the ode to Julian Lennon. Brentford are in red and white stripes, Manchester United in bin man fluorescent green/yellow.
It's still 33C in blistering west London
So the players will have drinks breaks roughly halfway through each half.
Erik ten Hag on Ronaldo
He is now two weeks into training and [has played] two half games. he is always a threat. The second half last week when he came on made a difference to the game and I expect that this week as well.
We responded really well in the second half last week and we have to react [from the start this week].
Thomas Frank confirms a switch in formation
Mads Roerslev will play in front of Aaron Hickey on the right and they will play four at the back.
Ronaldo starts for Manchester United
Manchester United De Gea; Dalot, Maguire, Martinez, Shaw; Fred; Eriksen; Fernandes; Sancho, Ronaldo, Rashford.
Substitutes Heaton, Malacia, Varane, Wan-Bissaka, Garner, McTominay, Van de Beek, Elanga, Garnacho.
After his goal last week, Dasilva starts for Brentford
Brentford Raya, Roerslev, Hickey, Jansson, Mee, Henry; Norgaard, Jensen; Dasilva, Mbeumo; Toney.
Substitutes Strakosha, Wissa, Ghaddos, Onyeka, Lewis-Potter, Damsgaard, Baptiste, Janelt, Bech.
Losing to Brighton in his first official match as Manchester United manager was hardly Erik ten Hag's ideal starting scenario but neither was defeat by Oxford United on Alex Ferguson's league debut 36 years ago. The question now, apart from the one about whether he can overcome the rottenness at the heart of Manchester United during the Glazers' ownership, is whether Ten Hag's debut disappointment will be resemble Ferguson's or his compatriot Louis van Gaal's, whose opening match at Old Trafford was a 2-1 defeat by Swansea City.
Forced into an unfamiliar system last week by the absence of a centre-forward, United toiled and had a couple of the usual suspects hiding, allowing Fred, who at least shows for the ball at all times, to field most of the flak. Today he should have Cristiano Ronaldo available from the start against a Brentford side who rallied brilliantly late at Leicester last week to earn a draw and a team Manchester United beat twice last season.
Thomas Frank, the Brentford manager, thinks Ten Hag is a terrific appointment and will ultimately put things right at Old Trafford. "In general I don't believe in if it's a perfect situation to play them in or a bad situation to play them in," he said.
"But one thing is for sure, they've got a new manager, a brilliant manager, I think he's done a fantastic job in his earlier jobs, so they're very interested in doing everything they can to make it a success with the players.
"They lost the first game, so if you lost a game the most common response [is] to really want to improve and do well. So it's going to be extremely difficult.
"I think there is no doubt that Manchester United are favourites, they can't afford not to win against us tomorrow.
Asked about reuniting with Christian Eriksen, Frank betrayed no bitterness at the Denmark captain's decision to move north at the end of a wonderful six-month spell at Kew Bridge.
"I am looking forward to seeing him again," Frank said. "I look forward to giving him a hug and asking him how his family is, then I look forward to competing against him on the pitch and afterwards hopefully we will have three points and he will have zero, but we will see.
"I think no doubt with his qualities, you could also see it in the last game - I know he was used in two different positions during the game.
"Obviously his quality on the ball is key and we know we can't give him too much time because he can see the ball between lines, he can see the ball behind and has the quality to put it on a string for any player."