Football Features

“Bruno and the kids” star as magnificent Manchester United second-half blows Brentford away

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:25, 19 January 2022

A brilliant Bruno Fernandes display inspired Manchester United to beat Brentford 1-3.

United were absolutely miserable in the first-half. They didn’t manage a shot on target and what’s more only a combination of poor finishing from Brentford and some sublime David de Gea saves kept them alive as they looked a ghost of a side as they often have lately.

Then came the second-half.

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Instantly United began the second period with far more intensity, driving the ball forward and forcing a corner. Then they actually pressed high up the field to keep the ball up in the Brentford box, and eventually they fashioned a chance for Cristiano Ronaldo that he looped onto the bar. It was like a light switch had been turned on.

Ralf Rangnick has been in charge since the end of November, but apart from perhaps the first hour of his debut game against Crystal Palace, his United side have shown none of the pressing that has defined Rangnick’s career in football. And so it was in the first-half tonight.

“We are the smallest club in the Premier League, Manchester United the biggest,” Frank told BT Sport post-match.

“We destroyed them in the first half, they didn’t have a sniff, three huge chances and there could only have been one winner of this game. They are unbelievably lucky. I know all the stuff about taking chances. They changed the system against little Brentford.”

“One of those nights, fair play to David de Gea, if we get those chances again one will go in the back of the net. Our intensity killed them, we showed that in the first half, we played the Brentford way.”

Frank was right, the first-half was a massacre. But in the second-half United turned it around. The commentators were saying that United were “giving Brentford a taste of their own medicine” but United’s pressing intensity was vintage Rangnick. And Brentford quite simply couldn’t cope with a more talented side matching their energy.

The opening goal was a nice cross from Fred taken down quite superbly by young Anthony Elanga who then flicked it up and headed it in. A wonderful bit of improvisation and just reward for the Red Devils for their second-half effort.

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“We really stepped up,” said Anthony Elanga after the game. And none moreso than Bruno Fernandes. After a brace against Aston Villa in the last game, tonight he stepped up to win the game with two brilliant assists.

Bruno Fernandes ended the night with a game-high 25 passes into the final third as he started from a deeper position than he’s used to. Playing centre-midfield in a 4-3-3, Bruno became more important in the build-up but still found time to be a final-third killer. He created a game-high 4 chances, two of which were assists.

The first goal saw him break from deep, latching on to Cristiano’s wonderful chest pass to race through and then unselfishly slip the ball across for Mason Greenwood to get a much-needed goal for both him and the team.

Later, he was at it again. Excellent work in the middle from Scott McTominay sent Bruno away and this time he held the ball, then slipped Marcus Rashford through with a perfectly weighted through-ball that the Englishman thrashed in to get himself a much-needed goal.

Two wonderful assists that got two stuttering young strikers back amongst the goals. In 71 Premier League appearances for Manchester United, Bruno Fernandes has now been directly involved in 58 goals (33 goals, 25 assists). That is frankly ludicrous, especially when you take into his accounts his struggles this season.

While the performance of Scott McTominay at the base of midfield has drawn much praise, Brentford are the kind of opponent that the Scottish international enjoys: a proactive side that plays high and leaves space at their back for him to bulldoze into (much like Leeds) and to be fair he absolutely did that with 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 clearances, a game-high 5/6 take-ons completed and a wonderful lofted pass in the build-up to the second United goal. But while this display gave United the drive and energy they needed in midfield, it was not the game-turner, the game-changer, the one that took the game away from Brentford.

What United have so often struggled with is scoring goals, only twice managing to score more than once in a single game under Rangnick before tonight. Tonight, however, Bruno Fernandes’ penetrative play changed all that.

Getting Bruno Fernandes into goalscoring and goal-creating form is going to be transformative for Ralf Rangnick’s fortunes at Manchester United. The Portuguese suits Rangnick’s pressing and quick-passing style perfectly, and if the Red Devils go out there every game and play and press with the same intensity that they did in the second-half tonight, then with the help of the young academy graduates like McTominay, Elanga, Rashford and Greenwood… Bruno Fernandes can carry Manchester United to great things indeed.

Trust in Bruno and the kids!