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Anthony Elanga puts Manchester United on the road to victory at Brentford | premier league

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Not for the first time and certainly not for the last, this mercurial group of Manchester United players served up a night’s work that defied convincing analysis. They should have been buried by Brentford in the first half but showed up for the second and came clear with exceptionally well-crafted goals from Anthony Elanga, Mason Greenwood and substitute Marcus Rashford. Some of their speed and flexibility after the break bore the mark of Ralf Rangnick, who will be delighted with the eventual change of gear. Ivan Toney’s late consolation was the least his side deserved and Brentford will regret a number of missed chances.

Brentford would like Christian Eriksen to help add some trickery to their usually high-octane approach, but their existing strengths have proven more than capable of asking questions. They brought United back in the opening exchanges, a booming long throw from Mads Bech Sørensen setting the tone, and Mathias Jensen could have done better than snatch a harmless volley after a clearance sat for him on the edge of The area.

Rangnick had kept faith in Elanga, who was brilliant in the unnecessary draw at Aston Villa, while reintroducing newcomers Cristiano Ronaldo and Scott McTominay. When Elanga found several yards of space beyond the far post and looped a header into goal, League debutant Jonas Lössl’s uncertain punching forced a quick breakout action from Sergi Canós then that the attackers were hiding.

It was a tough defense but United quickly got past it in a chaotic spell that saw Brentford come close four times in two minutes. When a loose pass from the back allowed Christian Nørgaard to send off Jensen, the angle favored the home midfielder over David de Gea. But the finish was tame and De Gea could save with one foot; the ball remained live and, as bodies piled up in the box, Vitaly Janelt’s shot deflected narrowly off target.

Almost immediately after, chaotic attempts to manage a Brentford corner allowed Sørensen to deliver an instantaneous shot that seemed goal-bound until Alex Telles, who knew little of his interference, pushed it away . Brentford weren’t done: the whirlwind of pressure ended with Nørgaard blazing after Jensen’s pullback and, much like his compatriot moments before, could curse himself for not opening the scoring.

United should have been behind. As proceedings took on consistent form, they dominated the ball but rarely chatted to Brentford, who was prepared to sit deep knowing he could wreak havoc on the counter, all fluttering. Diogo Dalot fired wide with a respectable effort from distance but, each time Brentford broke, the visitors’ form was all over the place. In the 33rd minute, the point was scored again when Ivan Toney dropped down the left and, with three forwards facing just one defender, was able to offer Jensen the chance to make amends. The midfielder succeeded again but, like his first chance, chose not to put his foot in the ball. He opted for precision and, in an identical sequence, De Gea pushed back with his left leg.

The half had passed United, although they forced a late corner when Elanga slipped away on the left. Rangnick can’t be expected to pull off a sustained blistering pace of charges in just a few months, but the difference in intensity between the teams was striking.

It’s not a new theme, but it can quickly be corrected by one of United’s disparate individuals. Two minutes after the break, Ronaldo nearly did what he so often does, meeting Bruno Fernandes’ chipped cross and heading for the bar with Lössl nowhere. A corner resulted and Brentford leapt onto the pitch with Jensen once again the player in space. From the toughest of his chances, he shot straight at De Gea.

There was a feeling of inevitability that Brentford would regret their waste. United’s passing had cleared a bit more of a goal since half-time and it was a ball of supreme, if unusual, ingenuity that opened the bees. Fred took out their back line with a deftly angled cut ball from deep that found Elanga making an equally smart run into the box. His first touch controlled the ball and, with Lössl offering little challenge as he straightened up, his second was a deliberate header into the corner.

The complexion had changed for good. Brentford tried to rally but could not regain their elasticity. Lössl fended off a shot from McTominay and a quick second goal looked likely. It came after a chested pass from Ronaldo sent Fernandes running and the previously unseen Greenwood took advantage of an unselfish pass.

United had shown their opponents how to be deadly on the counter and another lesson followed. Rashford had recently replaced Greenwood and scored his first goal since October 30 with conviction after excellent work from McTominay allowed Fernandes to motivate him. Toney’s late grouped effort meant little.

Anthony Elanga puts Manchester United on the road to victory at Brentford | premier league

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