Manchester United welcome Brentford to Old Trafford in the Premier League on Wednesday evening as United look to bounce back from their 2-0 defeat to Newcastle United on Sunday. United manager Erik ten Hag will also need to bounce back from a 4-0 defeat to Brentford at the start of the season so this will become a tough match for United. Brentford have done well this season and ahead of Wednesday’s match they sit in seventh place in the Premier League.
United were pushed into fourth place in the Premier League on Sunday following their defeat to the Magpies then slipped into fifth after the match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur ended in a 1-1 draw. There are six matches in the league to be played midweek which will start to level up the number of matches played from previously postponed matches earlier this season. United have a busy month ahead of them with eight more matches including this one.
Brentford drew 3-3 with Brighton and Hove Albion at the weekend – leading three times in the match which shows how much of an attacking team they are. If the United that turned up against the Magpies plays, United will be seeking to bounce back on Saturday when they face Everton at Old Trafford. On paper, United should be winning these matches and pushing themselves into finishing in the top four in the Premier League and seeking to win two more trophies.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI – 4-2-3-1
Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw;
Antony, Fernandes, Rashford;
Goalkeeper: De Gea
David De Gea is United’s number one goalkeeper and for that reason, I cannot see Ten Hag gamble in giving Jack Butland a debut against Brentford as he has not yet been tested. Stranger things have happened through. That said, I see De Gea in goal for this game. He was not off his game entirely against the Magpies and did perform a great save at a stage on the match, which was admirable. That said, he will receive criticism from the experts on social media who know better.
De Gea could be gone in the summer if a new contract is not agreed with him, on lesser terms that he is on now, which would be a shame but that said, United will need to move on at some point as they did after Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar. I fully expect De Gea to remain at United though as it is a club that he feels at home with and still wants to achieve with so that hunger is still there. United and Ten Hag will need to get the future sorted out though.
Tom Heaton looks set to be out of action for a period of time with an ankle injury and we saw Nathan Bishop on the bench with Butland against the Magpies – neither of them were used or required though. It may be a period of time, if ever that Bishop seeks to win the number on shirt at United and Butland will be gone in the summer with his move only being a loan for the remainder of the season. United will have their targets but none of them will be cheap.
Defenders: Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw
United missed Aaron Wan-Bissaka against Newcastle on Sunday. His illness came at the wrong time for United. Hopefully he is fit to face Brentford. Failing that, fit for Everton on Saturday. Diogo Dalot has not been all that great for United after the FIFA World Cup and that is a worrying sign considering he was the right-back most likely to be retained by Ten Hag this summer. Wan-Bissaka has been largely positive but may not be what Ten Hag actually wants in a right-back.
I think Luke Shaw should keep his place against Brentford as United need to be bat the the top of their game against the team that beat them 4-0 at the start of the season. Tyrell Malacia has pace but is largely inexperienced in the English game and his attacking does not seem to be his best asset at this time – that could change though in the not too distant future. I believe Shaw is the one that Ten Hag will got with in this game, which could set United up well both in attack and defence.
In the centre of the defence, I think Ten Hag will stick with Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, despite the defeat to Newcastle on Sunday. This is the best central defensive partnership at the club this season and needs to be stuck with. Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof will need to remain content with rotation and coming off the bench. I don’t think either of these will be good against Brentford, at least form the start as they can be slow and cumbersome.
Midfield: Fred, Sabitzer
United’s midfield was poor against Newcastle. Scott McTominay came off a good international break scoring four goals for Scotland and just did not get much in the match, which was kind of expected but with Casemiro suspended and Eriksen still coming back from injury, there was not much that could have been done. Fred should have started, which might have seen some kind of partnership between the Brazilian and Marcel Sabitzer.
It is clear that United need more midfielders in the summer – proven midfielders at that. A player that can stand in for Casemiro in rotation or for when he is suspended, which has been the case a few times now this season. With that type of cover in them midfield, United will not be too reliant on certain players all the time and fatigue may not set in like it seems to have at this stage of the season. Ten Hag will know this but with the Glazers in charge, it’s not likely to happen.
Sabitzer seems to be likely to keep his place in the midfield for this match as there is not much cover in those positions for the next few matches. I don’t think he settled against the Magpies and certainly did not show how good a player he was. That needs to change if he wants to earn a permanent position to United. He needs to be an impact player, know the system and be good in his position. For now, that is yet to be seen fully and he will need to change that.
Attacking Midfield: Antony, Fernandes, Rashford
The attacking midfield positions are where the goals have been coming from this season. Antony has seven goals and one assist. Bruno Fernandes has ten goals and ten assists and Marcus Rashford has 27 goals and seven assists. That is a total of 44 goals and 18 assists – 62 goal contributions in all competitions so far this season. With the chances that have been created, this could have been a lot more. That said, the figure is good considering United’s problems up top.
Antony should have remained on the pitch against the Magpies as he seemed to be the best attacking player in the first half of the match. The Brazilian can be a little predictable, which is something he will eventually work out as he settles into the Premier League – this is his first season in a much more competitive league than in the Netherlands, so he should be afforded more time. Fernandes probably needs a bit of a rest but until Casemiro and Eriksen are back, it won’t happen.
The Portuguese midfielder is a hard worker and has played in all but two of United’s matches this season, also playing internationally too – so he has a large number of minutes on the pitch this season. Rashford needs to start figuring out whether he wants to be the star player at United or that frustrating player that just can’t reach that pinnacle all the time. For me, that is the difference between being a good player and being a world class player. He needs to shine.
Anthony Martial made his return from injury against Newcastle United on Sunday but was unable to inspire United to a comeback, instead conceding a second goal of the match which has seen United slip into fifth place in the Premier League with 12 matches left until the end of the season. Prior to his latest injury, Martial has scored six goals and two assists this season and now that he is back, he will be expected to raise his game and offer United something special.
Wout Weghorst has worked hard since making his loan move to United in January but with just two goals three assists to his name and many failed chances, it seems clear that he’s not the type of player that is all of a sudden going to click his fingers and find the goals that he has already missed. As an impact player off the bench, he could be good to tire the oppositions defence later in the match and who knows, he might actually find more goals that way. That could work going forward.
For now though, Martial will need to find his scoring boots with the likes of Antony, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford helping him with both goals and assists, which will mean all three of them will need to raise their current game – which has not been the best of late. It seems that United were lucky to beat Fulham in the Emirates FA Cup as they have not scored a Premier League goal in their last three matches, which is a major worry for Ten Hag to solve.
Substitutes: Butland; Lindelof, Maguire, Malacia, Dalot; McTominay; Sancho, Weghorst, Pellistri
United manager Ten Hag needs to find a way to make this team get the results they need or face the season being derailed this month with a total of nine matches having been played before the end of it. In the Premier League, the Dutch manager will be able to name nine players on the bench – using five of those throughout the match. Jack Butland could be the only goalkeeper on the bench – providing that Wan-Bissaka does recover from illness ahead of this match.
In defence, which is United’s best manned position in the squad at this moment in time, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Tyrell Malacia and Diogo Dalot could all be available should they be needed to strengthen the defence throughout the match. Brentford will not be scared to attack United and their squad is pretty well gelled as has been shown against United already this season with further signs shown in their 3-3 draw against Brighton at the weekend. This will be tough.
In the midfield, Scott McTominay could be the only player on the bench in this position with Casemiro suspended and Christian Eriksen still on his way back to full fitness. In attack, United could well be stick with Jadon Sancho, Wout Weghorst and Facundo Pellistri on the bench. It shows that United do require strength in depth in the summer as this season has been tough on the relatively small squad the club has – it needs to be larger with more experience in key positions.
Written by John Walker