Manchester United fans should be worried about Club Brugge K.V.
When Louis van Gaal strolled into the Manchester United dugout to replace the departed David Moyes, some of the more ambitious United contingent anticipated the Dutchman would deliver a flurry of trophies to Old Trafford, namely in European competitions. Leaving his mark on some of the biggest clubs across the continent, LVG has vast experience of the game from an array of nations but, although his dossier boded well, the much-expected success didn’t transpire.
It was very much a rollercoaster debut campaign for van Gaal, not due to enthralling twists and turns and periods of rapid acceleration in the club’s advances, but due to the fluctuating spells put together by United throughout the course of the season. Robin van Persie’s prognosticated revival was short-lived, as was Angel Di Maria’s start to life in English football and King Louis’ revolution stalled, with United eventually finishing fourth in the league.
So, ahead of the annual round of Champions League qualifiers, I have compiled a scout report of the Manchester club’s opposition, Club Brugge, as well as analysing the internal issues at United themselves.
Scout Report: Club Brugge
United could have faced the likes of Lazio, CSKA Moscow or, perpetrators of Arsenal’s Champions League exit last term, Monaco, but were matched up with Belgian runners-up Brugge in the final qualifier before the tournament resumes. Many have discarded Club Brugge as the easiest possible draw for United, but perhaps some should not be so quick to right them off. Here are just a couple of factors United fans should consider...
Firstly there’s the psychological element. Very much raw to European football following failure to pave a path to Europe last season, van Gaal’s United will be competing in a Champions League game for the first time in well over a year. Yes, it’s still just a football match, but the players at United’s disposal will not have felt the tiring toll of trips across the channel in between EPL outings for some time, while new boys Morgan Schneiderlin and Sergio Romero have no experience of European competition.
Club Brugge are coming off the back of a very succesful season indeed. While the club finished first in the Belgian league last term, only to be pipped to the title by Gent in the Championship play-offs, the Belgian outfit topped their Europa league group, advancing all the way to the last eight. Dispatching Aalborg emphatically in the first knockout stage, before beating Besiktas 5-2 over two legs, Brugge lost out to eventual runners-up Dnipro in the quarter finals. The club have proved their capabilities in hostile conditions (a trip to Istanbul is no easy task) and the settled group of players should not be flustered by the magnitude of the occasion, especially as they are massive underdogs.
United will have to keep tabs on a side that have goals in plentiful supply. A greatly desired feature in modern sides, goals from midfield is something Club Brugge are heavily reliant on after Lior Refaelov finished their top scorer in the Europa League with 6 goals. Refaelov is struggling for fitness and could miss the United tie but club captain Timmy Simons found the net on numerous occasions in the league last season, in between marshalling a well structured midfield, while a host of other names, including dynamic winger Jose Izquierdo, registered a handful of goals.
The Brugge fanbase are another ingredient United fans should take into consideration. Retiring the number 12 shirt in recognition of their supporters as the ‘twelfth man’, the club were unbeaten at home during the regular season and the Jan Breydel Stadium could prove a tangeable test for the Red Devils.
Following the stereotypical blueprint of the modern Belgian game, Brugge are a side blessed with young talents, not least the surprisingly well-experienced 22-year-old Brandon Mechele who has been on the radar of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. With the squad relatively blemished by injuries at present, it opens the door for the younger faces to perform and sometimes little is more dangerous than a group of hungry youngsters eager to impress.
Although tight defensively, Michel Preud’homme’s side are heavily attacking based and will come to Old Trafford with the hope of snatching a goal or two. Brugge are a contented crop and that’s more can be said for United at present...
United’s Internal Issues
From back-to-front Manchester United are a club battling qualms about the attitude and ability of nearly all their players and, for Brugge, this could be the perfect time to play them.
Lethargic, sluggish and basically unconvincing, Man United may have edged victory over Tottenham on Saturday but it was a scrappy affair and, while debutant Sergio Romero was exposed more than van Gaal may have liked in the game, there was limited danger sparked by United’s attacking armoury at the other end.
Splashing out nearly £100-million on five players this summer, questions still hang over the future of David De Gea; there is a yearning for a world-class defender and Rooney has little competition up-top. Sure, it should be no problem over the smaller clubs, and many will consider Brugge to fall into this category, but the reality is United’s defence is vulnerable and the right mix of pace and physicality going forwards from the Belgian side could easily unlock the Manchester club’s backline.
Old Trafford is not the fortress it once was and teams equipped with the right mentality can easily take points home with them. Louis van Gaal’s side host Brugge first and that could be of great disadvantage to them, as even a slim defeat in the first leg would be by virtue of damaging away goals and would create almighty pressure for United heading into leg number two.