May 25, 2022

There are some things you can’t polish, as the saying goes, and this desperate, dismal Manchester United season is one of them.

Victory over Brentford in the final home game couldn’t paper over the cracks any more than it could silence the dissenting voices from the stands.

There were more protests outside Old Trafford before kick-off and anti-Glazer chants could be heard moments after Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane scored.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the star of the show as Manchester United beat Brentford 3-0 in the Premier League on Monday

Ronaldo, in particular, was excellent here as he continued to make a mockery of those who question his true value to this club.

United were bright too. They looked like a team who wanted to go out on a high at Old Trafford on a night when a number of them were playing here in red for the last time.

Change is coming and not a moment too soon. The best case scenario now is that United equal the club’s lowest ever Premier League points tally by winning their remaining two games away to Brighton and Crystal Palace, and then qualify for the Europa League. This is not what this great club stands for. The big prizes have long since slipped from their grasp, if they were ever a realistic prospect in the first place.

Those early-season highs seem an age ago now. Five goals in the home opener against Leeds, four next time out against Newcastle. Ronaldo’s homecoming and a rapturous reception for his former Real Madrid teammate Varane.

Visitors to Old Trafford for the final home game of a season that promised so much were greeted by riot police at the gates and protesters gathering under leaden skies around the Holy Trinity statue paying homage to Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best.

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It was a depressing image befitting a miserable campaign, irrespective of how United could sign off here. Erik ten Hag cannot take over soon enough.

How many of these players will be back when Ten Hag’s team begin a new chapter in August? It’s hard to predict but the exodus could run into double figures.

Juan Mata is one of those players definitely on their way and he was given a first Premier League start of the season to mark his Old Trafford farewell. Interim manager Ralf Rangnick said there would be ‘no gifts’ in his team selection but this certain felt like one.

‘I’m surprised,’ former United skipper Roy Keane told Sky Sports beforehand. ‘There’s some loyalty there, giving him a run-out. It tells you where the mind-set is. They are giving players a run-out for the wrong reasons.’

This was Nemanja Matic’s Old Trafford swansong too, and Edinson Cavani returned to the squad for the first time in seven weeks just in time to say goodbye to the old place.

Others will follow and there’s no guarantee that Ronaldo wants to risk staying for another season like this one.

It says everything about how much he had carried this team that the Portugal star had scored eight of United’s last nine league goals before this – seven of them here at Old Trafford.

So it was a surprise that he wasn’t involved when they scored in the ninth minute, having missed an early chance after he got in behind the Brentford defence.

The move for the goal was started by Diogo Dalot who swung a pass into the channel for Anthony Elanga to chase. The young Swede produced enough acceleration to reach the ball before it went out, and hooked a cross back for Fernandes to thump home an emphatic volley.

It was about the only significant United move that didn’t involve Ronaldo in the first half. He failed to convince referee Chris Kavanagh to point to the spot after going down under Mads Roerslev’s challenge, produced a lovely flick to set up Mata for a shot that flew just wide, and then got on the end of the little Spaniard’s cross to score just before half-time only to see it ruled out for offside by VAR.

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Ronaldo had a worthy adversary in Christian Eriksen, though. If this was the ideal stage for the Dane to showcase his skills to other clubs – possibly even United – then he certainly seized the opportunity.

Eriksen was at the heart of all Brentford’s best moments, and they could easily have been level at the interval had Bryan Mbeumo converted from his early pass and Ivan Toney not headed inches over from a sumptuous cross.

Ronaldo almost helped United to extend their lead within five minutes of the restart when he set up Dalot to hit the bar, but was offside once again. Moment later, Fernandes was the width of a post away from getting a second when Matic’s pass sent him clear.

Eriksen responded by winning a free kick that he fired on goal from 25 yards, forcing a diving save from David de Gea who then kept out Toney’s low shot with his right foot.

But Ronaldo wasn’t going to be denied and his goal arrived from the penalty spot after he was fouled on the hour mark.

The initial pass once again came from Dalot. Ronaldo knocked Rico Henry off the ball and then went down under the defender’s clumsy recovery challenge. Fernandes missed United’s last penalty at Arsenal so up stepped Ronaldo and he didn’t fail.

Varane volleyed the third from a corner off Pontuss Jansen’s knee in the 72nd minute. By then the farewells were in full swing. Matic and Mata off, Cavani and Jones on.

So too were the protests. Green and gold smoke drifted over the pitch as a few fans made good on their promise to walk out in the 73rd minute. They didn’t miss much.

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Scroll down to see how it all unfolded with Sportsmail’s live runner.