Losing to Brighton in his first official match as Manchester United manager was hardly Erik ten Hag’s ideal starting scenario but neither was defeat by Oxford United on Alex Ferguson’s league debut 36 years ago. The question now, apart from the one about whether he can overcome the rottenness at the heart of Manchester United during the Glazers’ ownership, is whether Ten Hag’s debut disappointment will be resemble Ferguson’s or his compatriot Louis van Gaal’s, whose opening match at Old Trafford was a 2-1 defeat by Swansea City.
Forced into an unfamiliar system last week by the absence of a centre-forward, United toiled and had a couple of the usual suspects hiding, allowing Fred, who at least shows for the ball at all times, to field most of the flak. Today he should have Cristiano Ronaldo available from the start against a Brentford side who rallied brilliantly late at Leicester last week to earn a draw and a team Manchester United beat twice last season.
Thomas Frank, the Brentford manager, thinks Ten Hag is a terrific appointment and will ultimately put things right at Old Trafford. “In general I don’t believe in if it’s a perfect situation to play them in or a bad situation to play them in,” he said.
“But one thing is for sure, they’ve got a new manager, a brilliant manager, I think he’s done a fantastic job in his earlier jobs, so they’re very interested in doing everything they can to make it a success with the players.
“They lost the first game, so if you lost a game the most common response [is] to really want to improve and do well. So it’s going to be extremely difficult.
“I think there is no doubt that Manchester United are favourites, they can’t afford not to win against us tomorrow.
Asked about reuniting with Christian Eriksen, Frank betrayed no bitterness at the Denmark captain’s decision to move north at the end of a wonderful six-month spell at Kew Bridge.
“I am looking forward to seeing him again,” Frank said. “I look forward to giving him a hug and asking him how his family is, then I look forward to competing against him on the pitch and afterwards hopefully we will have three points and he will have zero, but we will see.
“I think no doubt with his qualities, you could also see it in the last game – I know he was used in two different positions during the game.
“Obviously his quality on the ball is key and we know we can’t give him too much time because he can see the ball between lines, he can see the ball behind and has the quality to put it on a string for any player.”