Cristiano Ronaldo leads improved Manchester United to closing home win over Brentford

Ronaldo wrapped up victory with his 18th Premier League goal of the season

If it is goodbye and good riddance to 2021-22 at Old Trafford, it was a curiously fond farewell for Manchester United. A season that promised far more than it delivered, which began with a 5-1 demolition of Leeds, at least ended with Ralf Rangnick’s biggest victory in his final home game and was decorated by the departing Juan Mata.

Bruno Fernandes, who scored a hat-trick on that heady August afternoon against Leeds, bookended the campaign at home with his 50th United goal. Cristiano Ronaldo smashed in a penalty and, at 37, has equalled his tally of league goals – 18 – from 2008-09, when Real Madrid paid £80 million for him. Another exile from the Bernabeu, Raphael Varane, opened his United account and Brentford were comfortably beaten.

While it came to a backdrop of dissent, with supporters protesting about the Glazers’ ownership, United could at least enjoy victory, just their third in 12 games, in an open, entertaining affair.

It was scarcely Rangnick football and it came with an air of irrelevance that underlined just how much their plans have gone awry. In a week of Champions League semi-finals, United instead moved closer to booking a place in next season’s Europa League. They can still at least equal their lowest points total in three decades, the 64 they registered in 2013-14. This has been their worst season since the 1980s and if the 5-0 evisceration by Liverpool represented a historic low, this represented their most emphatic triumph on home territory since Ronaldo’s second debut in September.

It was Brentford’s first league game at Old Trafford since 1946 while there was a nostalgic feel to a United teamsheet featuring Mata and Nemanja Matic. Ronaldo, who arrived at Old Trafford with a flurry of flicks and tricks in 2003, rewound time with a few backheels. The Serbian and the Spaniard exited to standing ovations, a recognition that each is a likeable character. Blame for United’s regression lies with others and Mata, on a belated first league start of the season, suggested he has been underused.


Juan Mata was excellent on his first Premier League start of the season

Mata strolled around, wafting passes, offering evidence he remains a lovely footballer, albeit one who operates at half the pace of everyone else. He led Brentford a merry dance in slow motion and came close to a valedictory goal, shooting wide when teed up by Ronaldo with a backheeled flick. When the roles were reversed, the Portuguese slotted home and it seemed to reflect badly on Brentford that footballing pensioners had breached their offside trap. Instead, replays showed Ronaldo had strayed too early and the goal was chalked off. He was offside again when he set up Diogo Dalot to hit the bar; it has been a feature of Ronaldo’s season. But so has been his enduring hunger and, when pushed over by Rico Henry, he dispatched a penalty in emphatic fashion.

Unlike at Arsenal, Fernandes was not on spot-kick duties. Unlike then, he was on the scoresheet, giving United an early lead. Anthony Elanga scooted clear to cross. Fernandes cut in from the left to volley in his first goal in 11 games. The young winger is one of a minority to have benefited from Rangnick’s management, as he leaves a slender legacy, the Portuguese one of a larger band of underachievers under the German. He scored far more frequently for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but a belated 10th goal of the season was finished well. He could have had another, arrowing a shot wide. With Dalot playing some incisive passes, United were a threat, though the other full-back got the assist for the third goal as Alex Telles’ corner was hooked in by Varane, via a deflection.

Rico Henry got caught on the wrong side of Cristiano Ronaldo in conceding the second-half penalty

For Brentford, the achievement in reaching 40 points meant they could enjoy the occasion. Ivan Toney headed wide from Christian Eriksen’s wonderful cross and then drew a save from David de Gea. The goalkeeper was tested by Eriksen, with a long-range free kick. The Dane’s passing showed his timeless quality as he showed the merits of having an elegant technician. So did Mata, and Old Trafford savoured a last glimpse of him.

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