Braga vs Manchester United – Five talking points
As it has been for most of the United season, the scoreline, however so convincing, cannot hide the fact that they were way below par for most of the game. Sir Alex, even after lauding the impact of playing width in the past few games, opted to start with a flat formation that lacked intent and showed signs of conservative football for the next 90 minutes. The side never looked to produce anything significant on the field, with Valencia playing as a full-back, no one playing wide out left to attack, while Giggs, Rooney, Anderson were content in trading the ball around for most of the first half. It was only when Braga scored from the spot that the Scot called for some much needed changes – introducing van Persie, Rafael and Ferdinand, that changed the approach of the side and the eventual scoreline with three goals in the last ten minutes of play.
When you see the stats at the stroke of half-time, it was the Portuguese side that made the most of their 40% possession, lining up 9 goal-scoring attempts. They were penetrating at will from the wide channels, and created a host of opportunities that they failed to capitalize on. Alan looked threatening on the right wing, but it was their wastefulness in front of goal which let them down for most of the game. It was rather surprising in a way, when you see the a side do all the right things for most of the game and yet lose by two goals. Surely it was due to how United displayed their ruthless attacking side at the death, but it was also about the home side not making United pay in the early exchanges.
It has been one roller-coaster ride for the United fans, after watching their side go down with an early goal and then construct a fine comeback for numerous occasions this season. It’s the depth and the sheer versatility of the attacking front that Sir Alex could still manage to smile about, after seeing his side on the top of the domestic and the European League tables. But what has been rather worrying for the manager is how the defense has faltered for more than one occasion this season. The likes of Braga and Galatasaray, who should be intimidated by the Old Trafford atmosphere, played with utter dominance for most of the game, and it was all down to United’s central defensive pair failing to impose any kind of authority at the back. Now, with Smalling making an encouraging return for the Reds, and Phil Jones also set for a comeback in the coming days, Sir Alex could rather feel optimistic about the resources he would possess ahead of the crucial winter period of the season.
With Javier Hernandez enjoying a fine run of form upfront, it is Welbeck who has been left to adapt on the left side of the attack. Sir Alex has always looked to pack three forwards in his formation, and the likes of Rooney, van Persie and Hernandez have found themselves at home in their playing positions. However, it is Welbeck who’s suffering in this rotation scheme, as he looked a shadow of his usual self on the field against Braga.
With a top spot and the qualification in the bag, one can expect Sir Alex to field his second-string sides and experiment with his formation in the next two group games. Of course, it’s a luxury the Scot would enjoy as he’s still in search of a balanced set up for the more challenging European fixtures his side will face in the knock-out stage. United should be content with the results for now, as the top spot could well avoid the top guns in the round of 16, another incentive for what has been a rather dodgy, yet yielding run for the Reds in Europe this season.