Baffling man united leave more questions than answers despite …

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    • london v manchester united remain a perplexing team to watch. despite the confusion and disjointed play on Wednesday, united put together some impressive individual performances which led to three quality goals against a well-trained brentford side.

      united’s 3-1 win had its positive takeaways, which may have broader significance later on: anthony elanga’s well-taken goal, marcus rashford breaking his goal drought, fred’s growing influence in midfield of ralf rangnick and proof that they can win a match without cristiano ronaldo scoring. but still, there are so many questions about this equipment.

      Those were three big points for rangnick, after a fitful start to his time in charge of man united. he played out a 4-3-3 after ditching his preferred 4-2-2-2, but it ended with his side playing three at the back as they held off a late comeback from brentford. The fact that Ivan Toney’s goal came from a corner will not have escaped Rangnick’s attention. you’ll probably take note of the fact that united again couldn’t remotely upset brentford with their own pieces.

      Then there’s Ronaldo, who did more to turn heads on the touchline than on the pitch. Having missed out on a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa on Saturday, Ronaldo was substituted after 71 minutes here at Brentford and looked disappointed to say the least. He was seen by television cameras simmering on the steps near Man United Bank after losing a fight with his coat, who was promptly thrown to the ground. As United celebrated their third goal through Rashford, Rangnick was seen having a deep discussion with Ronaldo, explaining the decision to replace him.

      “the only reaction I got from him was that he asked why I had to make the decision in the interest of the team,” Rangnick explained after the game. “We were in the same situation as the weekend: 2-0 up and we didn’t want to make the same mistake again. I decided to switch to a back five and it was the right decision. Cristiano wasn’t happy, he’s a goalscorer and he wanted to score himself, but we needed the legs.

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        “I didn’t expect him to hug me after he was substituted,” ranknick added. “I know how those scorers think. I have no problem with Cristiano.”

        that’s a bit of that pantomime, which rangnick will like. You’ll be pleased to see some bite and anger in this tight-knit team from their star player, but for all his second-half dominance and eventual three points, this was far, far from a team-perfect performance. united.

        Rangnick, before the game, asked his team to turn an impressive 70 minutes against Aston Villa at the weekend into a 90-minute full-pitch display of physicality, mentally strong and tactically high level. those hopes were a distant memory in the early moments of the match in which brentford were dominant.

        the first half for manchester united was as bad as the second was good. Brentford vastly outplayed United in the opening 45 minutes, creating at least two chances for Mathias Jensen, which only David De Gea’s brilliance prevented. united scrambled and as they eagerly chased the ball they ran out of position and brentford exploited that through bryan mbuemo’s counter-attacking ability. united held on for 0-0 at half-time, thanks mainly to de gea, a familiar narrative to be sure.

        “I’m incredibly proud of the team and the players,” said Brentford manager Thomas Frank. “the way we absolutely destroyed them in the first half was amazing – we had 6 chances, they had zero. it’s a miracle they weren’t down 2-0 at half time. de gea was by far the best player of the game united today.”

        Rangnick apparently agreed with that assessment of De Gea, telling reporters afterwards: “We have to be honest, without David and his brilliant saves, it would have been difficult to keep a clean sheet at half time. We were second. better in all aspects of the game in the first half, sloppy passing, losing 50/50 situations and we didn’t win a second ball in the first half.”

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        There remain cracks in united’s foundation and unanswered questions. Anthony Martial’s immediate future remains uncertain, as he became an isolated figure on his bench, an unused substitute. Then there are his problems on set pieces: United looked vulnerable at the back, while the current tally of 113 corners without a goal remains a real problem.

        eric ramsey, the set piece coach, was seen flipping madly through his ipad in the early stages of the match, analyzing brentford’s threat on long shots and analyzing corners. man united still look extremely vulnerable to counterattacks, and their fast-paced defense can easily fall apart.

        this was a case of work done by united, winning a game that might have been out of reach by half time had it not been for de gea. Rangnick will be delighted by his well-received three second-half goals, but this was far from convincing as we wait for a team capable of putting together a 90-minute performance to emerge.

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