As if this season has not already been agonising enough from a Manchester United perspective, the club’s arch rivals could be about to make it that much worse.
As the two greatest rivals in the land, the gulf between Liverpool and Man United could hardly be bigger right now. Whilst United anxiously wait to end trophy-less for a fifth straight season, Jürgen Klopp’s dominant side could yet come away with a complete set of cups.
Despite dropping points in a1-1 home draw with Tottenham, Liverpool still have a fair shout at winning the Premier League title with three games left to play. The Merseysiders are three points adrift league leaders Manchester City and are also in the finals of the FA Cup next weekend and the UEFA Champions League in three weeks’ time. Earlier this year the Reds beat Chelsea in the League Cup final and they are to face the same opponents at Wembley on Saturday.
United are already certain to end with its lowest Premier League points tally since the competition’s inception 30 years ago, and anything less than a win in their final match of the season at Crystal Palace would see United finish with fewer than 60 points for the first time since 1991.
United’s last home encounter of the league campaign saw them welcome Brentford to Old Trafford. Interim manager Ralf Rangnick made a sole change to the XI which started four days prior in the 1-1 stalemate with Chelsea, as Juan Mata was selected over Marcus Rashford. Fred and Edinson Cavani returned to the matchday squad after respective injuries, while Harry Maguire was unavailable with a knee problem.
Mata made a first league start of the season, four days after his 34th birthday and nine weeks before his current United deal expires. In his eight years at the club, the Spaniard has played under seven managers including Ryan Giggs in 2014 and Michael Carrick in 2021.
Mata was United’s primary source of orchestrating attacking plays linking up multiple times with the Portuguese duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes. It was Fernandes who broke the deadlock on nine minutes after Anthony Elanga brilliantly revived the ball on the byline for United’s stand-in skipper to launch home from close range.
This was just the fourth time United have scored inside the opening ten minutes throughout this league season. Ronaldo doubled United’s advantage on the cusp of half-time, but VAR disallowed the goal for a tight offside call. Seven minutes into the second half, Nemanja Matić found Fernandes in acres of space but the latter placed his shot narrowly wide of the far post.
On the hour mark Ronaldo was brought down in the penalty area by Rico Henry, and the 37-year-old calmly dispatched the spot-kick for his 18th league goal of the season, 102nd overall in the Premier League, and career goal number 813 for the phenomenon that is Cristiano. He also netted for a fourth consecutive home game after strikes against Tottenham, Norwich and Chelsea. This was Ronaldo’s 14th league goal at Old Trafford this term, more home goals than any other player in the Premier League.
Raphaël Varane lashed in from Alex Telles’ corner kick for the French international to bag his first goal for the club, after his headed effort at Burnley in February was ruled out for an offside against Maguire.
Mata and Matić were replaced in the final 20 minutes and each received a warm reception from the in-house crowd in what was a last home outing in United colours for the pair. Anthony Elanga was also withdrawn as the trio of Fred, Cavani and Phil Jones entered the fray. Jesse Lingard, also set to leave the club on June 30, was an used sub much to the dismay of the player and his entourage.
United completed 710 successful passes, their most of any league game up until this point, and they also collected a rare clean sheet – just their eighth in the league this season.
F/T Man United 3 - 0 Brentford
United then visited Brighton and Hove Albion for their penultimate match of the 2021/22 campaign, as Rangnick named an unchanged team from the victory versus Brentford. Rashford missed out through bronchitis while Jadon Sancho remained out of action with tonsillitis. Maguire returned to the travelling squad and was named on the bench.
Brighton dominated every facet of play in the early stages and it was the hosts to open the scoring through Moises Caicedo, who United were said to be close to signing in January last year. The 20-year-old Ecuadorean midfielder curled his effort into the bottom corner from 25 yards, through the legs of Victor Lindelöf, after a shoddy headed clearance by Telles.
Brighton completely dictated the tempo as United were short of ideas and struggled to get going, failing to produce a shot on target in the first half. Rangnick made a double switch for the second period with Cavani and Fred replacing Elanga and Matić.
Marc Cucurella rifled home to double Brighton’s lead four minutes after the interval and the Seagulls were three to the good barely ten minutes later. Three became four on the hour mark with thanks to Leandro Trossard. Both Caicedo and Cucurella notched their first goals since joining Brighton last year.
Maguire was introduced for Mata with 20 minutes left, but the damage had already been done. Brighton completed their demolition of United, before which Graham Potter’s men had won three of 17 home games in the league and had scored the joint-lowest goals at home (12).
Brighton’s biggest-ever win in the top-flight coincided with United tasting defeat in five straight away matches for the first time since 1981. Moreover, the 56 (and counting) goals let in this term is officially United’s worst tally in Premier League history, and the Red Devils have conceded its most goals in a league season for 43 years.
F/T Brighton 4 - 0 Man United
After a long and woeful season United’s final league game comes from Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace on May 22, as the Premier League brings down the curtain on its 30th campaign.
Thereafter Erik ten Hag will take over as United manager for what will unquestionably be the Dutchman’s most high-profile job and greatest managerial challenge to date.