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Following Manchester United’s dismal performance against Brighton, Erik ten Hag will be looking for a much improved performance in the club’s second Premier League game of the season away to Brentford on Saturday, especially in terms of their attacking output.
Having only scored through an own goal in their defeat to Brighton, Manchester United are in desperate need for a far more clinical and effective attacking display when taking on Brentford, with another failure to produce an adequate attacking output signalling a large cause for concern at the Manchester club.
Following Brentford’s 2-2 draw with Leicester in their opening game of the season, a number of flaws that could be exposed by United were revealed in Thomas Frank’s side.
By analysing these flaws, three key attacking elements that Manchester United could focus on to expose Brentford’s defensive frailties have emerged.
An effective implementation of each of these key areas could see United post a statement score against the London club and signify the potency of their attack, with this coming under scrutiny in the days following the loss to Brighton.
These areas are as follows:
A key objective of many attacks involves splitting the centre backs of a team, creating space in behind for the forwards to move into or for the player in possession of the ball to drive into.
However, splitting the centre-backs from the full-backs can be similarly effective for getting in behind teams or creating enough space to get an effective shot off.
Leicester did this to great effect in their draw with Brentford, with Leicester’s forwards targeting the spaces between both centre-backs and the full-backs on their respective sides.
This proved fruitful for Leicester as they created numerous chances by implementing this.
Wesley Fofana headed onto the post by targeting this area from a set-piece in the second half and Leicester's wingers were able to move into this space before providing a combination of crosses and pull backs.
Should Manchester United replicate this attacking style to a reasonable extent, it could be expected that United’s forwards will have a successful day at the Brentford Community Stadium.
The vision and technical ability of both Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen would pose a devastating force to Brentford’s defence.
In addition to the ability of both midfielders, the pace of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, should both retain their starting positions, would compliment this system greatly.
The final piece of the jigsaw would involve an absolute poacher with unrivalled finishing ability, remind you of anyone at the club...?
While Cristiano Ronaldo is out of favour with many fans and even Erik ten hag himself, the 37 year-old’s finishing ability in the box would prove more than effective in a system similar to the one described so far.
Hovering about the penalty spot with constant service from the wingers would feel like a training exercise for the forward and would undoubtedly see Ronaldo open his account for the season.
A final factor of this area which would see it work in the favour of Manchester United is its simplicity, with the 10 in Bruno Fernandes, or deeper lying midfielder in Christian Eriksen, both valid options to play the ball in behind to the wingers, splitting the defence apart.
There is not the same requirement for intricate parallel passing that seemed evident against Brighton.
The second area Manchester United need to aim in order to exploit Brentford’s weaknesses comes in the area in front of the back four.
Leicester had great success when playing in this area, with Dewsbury-Hall’s and Leicester’s second goal coming from a failure to press the player in this area.
By targeting this area as well as the area between the centre-backs and the full-backs, United’s playmakers will have two crucial attacking areas to play in an alternate between.
Should the centre-backs elect to close the distance between themselves and the wingers going in behind, the no.10 or deeper midfielders in the forms of Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen will have more time to drive forward and either play a slightly more intricate pass, or more likely, shoot at goal.
Both Fernandes and Eriksen have the ability to score from distance, making this a more than viable option and offers Manchester United the ability to test the keeper in a more efficient way than they managed against Brighton.
By having the ability to drive into this area or play the wingers in behind, United’s attacking chances should be far more in abundance than in their opening game of the season.
Should Ronaldo feature on Saturday, he would also provide an option to shoot from distance or lurk in the box, waiting for any potential rebound off defenders or the goalkeeper that make for easy goal scoring opportunities.
While quick tempo is a staple feature of any top European side it seems in the modern game, this will be especially crucial for United against Brentford in order to break their intense pressing.
Brentford's pressing out of possession was intense and precise, leading to potential problems for United in a defensive aspect, but could actually provide a significant attacking boost for United going forward.
Leicester were able to break Brentford’s press through quick one-touch passing, with a sequence of this style leading to their second goal, as the space created through this tempo allowed Dewsbury-hall the space in front of the back four to shoot.
As the press appears to be consistent between all of their midfielder’s, breaking it allows for extra space in the middle of the park, leading back to the idea of playing in the space in front of Brentford’s back four.
In theory, United should be able to achieve this with resounding success, with the technical abilities of Lisandro Martinez, Eriksen, Fernandes and Sancho on the ball ideally resulting in fast flowing football, something Erik ten Hag will be desperate to see in his side.
However, this may prove difficult for United, should they replicate their poor passing accuracy that was more than evident against Brighton.
Furthermore, a quick enough tempo to break the press will also allow more room for Sancho and Rashford to run into, further exacerbating the potential success of splitting the centre-backs and full-backs.
Overall, United will have to display a level of precision far above what was seen in Sunday’s defeat to break down this Brentford team, but it is more than possible for the team to rack up a sizable scoreline, should they target the right areas of the pitch and execute attacking opportunities.
Perhaps more than anything, they have to be far more clinical in front of goal, as these areas mentioned provide the chances for goals, but not the final product, meaning United’s attackers will have to refine their finishing.
Manchester United take on Brentford at 5:30pm BST in a game The Reds will be hoping turns their fortunes early in the season.