The post-match analysis of Brentford 4-0 Manchester United inevitably centred on the vanquished visitors. It was a pitiful performance from Erik ten Hag’s side, who were outfought, outthought, outrun and outplayed by a team which was assembled on a fraction of United’s annual budget.
With Liverpool up next for the Red Devils, there is a genuine possibility that the club will lose each of its first three games of a league season for the first time since 1986/87, when a poor start spelled the end for Ron Atkinson and led to the appointment of Alex Ferguson.
But that is only one half of the story of Saturday’s game. For all that United were dismal, Brentford were brilliant. It is true that they bullied United physically, both from set-pieces and in open play, but they also played the better football. Their fourth goal was a masterclass in how to counter-attack, and their shape both in and out of possession put their wealthier opponents to shame.
It has been an excellent start to the season for Thomas Frank’s side. After a below-par showing in the first half of their first match, Brentford fought back to draw 2-2 with Leicester City on the opening weekend. The victory over United is one of their most memorable since promotion, along with the 2-0 defeat of Arsenal last August and the 4-1 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in April.
Just as it was last term, Brentford’s objective in 2022/23 is simply to stay in the division. Privately, Frank may hope for more. But the history of the Premier League is littered with examples of clubs that suffered second-season syndrome after exceeding expectations in the first year after promotion. Sheffield United fell through the trapdoor in 2020/21, while Leeds United narrowly avoided that fate last time out – thanks to a win at Brentford on the final weekend.
There is still a long way to go, but Brentford have already shown that they are up for the fight this season. Saturday’s contest was the perfect demonstration of what this team is about. They like to get crosses into the box and are happy to go from back to front quickly, but they can play through midfield too. The signing of Mikkel Damsgaard should in theory help the Bees to replace the creativity they lost when Eriksen opted against renewing his contract in west London.
There has been more good work in the summer transfer market, with Scottish right-back Aaron Hickey and former Burnley captain Ben Mee helping to aid the transition from back three to back four. But Frank has largely stuck with what he had last season. Hickey and Mee were the only players in the starting XI against United that were not at the club in 2021/22. Those that make up the spine of this team – David Raya, Pontus Jansson, Christian Norgaard and Ivan Toney – were all with Brentford in the Championship.
“I was very pleased, very proud of the performance,” Frank told the BBC after the game.
“To beat Manchester United 4-0 – the biggest club in the world, world-class players – makes some remarkable memories for the Brentford fans here. It’s crazy. In some way unreal.
“It’s no surprise that we win today because I know we’re good. Maybe it wasn’t a 4-0 game. We deserved to win, but it wasn’t a 4-0. I really hope that people look into our performance and give us credit, because if you win 4-0 you must be doing something good.”