Manchester United enjoyed a useful pre-season friendly workout against newly-promoted Premier League side Brentford on Wednesday night.
A youthful United outfit played out a pulsating 2-2 draw against the Bees in front of a 30,000-capacity crowd – the biggest attendance at Old Trafford since early March 2020.
Anthony Elanga and Andreas Pereira were both on the scoresheet for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s makeshift side but Shandon Baptiste and Bryan Mbuemo twice struck back for Brentford.
It was an entertaining game which allowed the peripheral figures in United’s squad to get more game-time and first-team exposure ahead of stars returning to full training.
Here are the five talking points from an entertaining clash.
Elanga grabs the headlines
Anthony Elanga continues to shine for Manchester United after breaking into the senior setup in the closing weeks of last season.
He has once again caught the eye in pre-season – on Saturday he emerged as a second half substitute and produced a fine finish in a difficult defeat at Queen’s Park Rangers.
The Swedish forward was rewarded with a start against Brentford – taking the place of Dan James in attack – and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
He once again impressed with his movement and directness whilst producing a tremendous finish to open the scoring.
The 19-year-old was picked out in the area by an Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross and despite stumbling backwards, he was capable of producing a tremendous volleyed finish past David Raya.
Elanga is a versatile forward who has plenty of pace, technical attributes, clever movement and an eye for goal – and he is staking a claim for a role in United’s senior ranks this season.
The ki ds are alright
United’s youthful line-up came under fire after shipping four goals against Queen’s Park Rangers on Saturday but boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stuck by the entire defensive unit for this game.
Teden Mengi – who is wanted by a number of Championship clubs on loan – put in a steady performance in the heart of the defence and did well to marshal the threat of Ivan Toney.
Mengi was partnered by Axel Tuanzebe, who has significantly more experience but is another likely to depart on loan this summer with Premier League sides interested.
Those youth products could well have big futures at the club, with Brandon Williams – another who did not convince in the QPR loss – impressing at left-back.
That was complemented by the star performance of teenager Elanga, with Mason Greenwood leading the line with maturity – it is easy to forget just how young he still is, despite amassing over 100 senior appearances.
James Garner, Shola Shoretire, Facundo Pellestri and Hannibal Mejbri were among those to feature in the second half – showing the depth of young talent in the Old Trafford ranks.
Action Images via Reuters)
Shop window or fresh start?
Whilst that wealth of young talent may mainly be looking for short-term loan deals away from the club this summer, others are more likely to be in their last chance territory for the club.
Most notably are midfielders Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira – who have returned from loan spells at West Ham and Lazio respectively.
Lingard has impressed during pre-season – scoring at QPR on Saturday – and was bright again here, even if he did not find the scoresheet during his 75-minute role – his shot was saved by Brentford goalkeeper David Raya which was followed by Pereira’s stunning strike.
Brazilian midfielder Pereira has a penchant for spectacular goals and his technical excellence is undisputed, and despite the fine goal here he is likely to exit permanently this summer.
It is expected that both Lingard and Pereira will depart permanently this summer to raise funds for United to reinvest elsewhere, while there are also question marks over Diogo Dalot.
The Portuguese defender returned from a loan spell at Milan and he came on as a substitute at half-time at left-back – not his usual right-sided slot.
He failed to intercept the through ball that allowed Bryan Mbuemo to score Brentford’s second on the night.
United remain in the market for a right-back to challenge Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s place, with Dalot likely to be moved on – either on a loan deal with an obligation to buy or permanently.
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Formation and shape set in stone
Manchester United have now set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in each of their pre-season matches.
Whilst the personnel is likely to change greatly ahead of the new campaign getting underway, it is likely that this will be the approach used again this season.
Edinson Cavani is likely to spearhead the attack while as things stand, Fred and Scott McTominay are set to anchor the midfield.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is likely to want all players at his disposal – even if they will enjoy limited game-time this season – to be accustomed to the system and to be able to slot in when required.
Plenty more to come
Of course, United were without many of their first-team stars in these matches owing to international commitments at the Euros and Copa America.
Of the team that started the Europa League final against Villareal in May, only two players were involved here: Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Mason Greenwood.
The likes of Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford, Fred, Edinson Cavani, Scott McTominay, David De Gea, Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof and Bruno Fernandes are either still on holiday or not yet sufficiently fit for pre-season participation.
New signing Jadon Sancho is another who is still recuperating following the Euros while Raphael Varane will not join pre-season until undergoing a medical and adhering to strict quarantine rules.
Amad Diallo and Eric Bailly are representing Ivory Coast at the Olympics while Dean Henderson and Alex Telles are among those recovering from injuries.
The number of players to come back is well into double-figures, meaning United fans can expect plenty more to come from their side in pre-season.
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