Manchester United v Club Brugge Preview: Do or die in Europe
Manchester United face Club Brugge in the second leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie.
The Old Trafford match follows on from the first leg in Brugge which ended in a 1-1 draw last Thursday. Manchester United conceded early on thanks to sloppy defending following a United corner allowing Emmanuel Dennis to latch onto a Simon Mignolet goal kick virtually unchallenged before looping it over Romero who was caught out in no man’s land.
Anthony Martial hit back twenty minutes later to level the game, showing an industrious work rate to beat the defender to a misplaced pass before demonstrating his calm composure to finish one on one and give United a much needed away goal which means the Red Devils control the tie, a goalless draw being enough to send them through. The 24-year old Frenchman has hit a good run of form as of late, having now scored three goals in as many matches since the return from the Winter break.
The team performance against Brugge highlighted underlying attacking issues and it was only through Martial’s individual work-rate that the reds scored. The closest Manchester United came to scoring another also came through the Frenchman’s individuality, a thunderous strike being tipped onto the post by Mignolet.
Outside of that, United looked lacklustre until Bruno Fernandes entered the field in 81st minute. During his brief cameo Fernandes had four shots, more than the rest of the Manchester United team combined all game. He played visibly a level above anyone else on the pitch, pushing the Red Devils forward in the pursuit of a winner.
Bruno Fernandes will be sure to play a major role in the upcoming fixture and has been in fine form since arriving in Manchester. On Sunday he put out a man of the match performance against Watford and scored his first United goal, a classy penalty. Fernandes acted as the conductor across the pitch for the Red Devils, dropping back to aid defence when needed and acting as the lynch pin when the Reds went forward, demonstrating a high range of passing.
However, without Bruno, Manchester United failed to pose any real threat and struggled to breakdown a fickle Belgian defence and as a result this will be no easy game. In addition, Club Brugge demonstrated a considerable ability to capitalise on United’s defensive errors and came close more than once in the previous leg, putting pressure on Manchester United’s backline. Against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu they scored twice and, despite ultimately losing 1-0, they threatened PSG at the Parc des Princes, amassing a total of 14 shots.
Phillipe Clement will no doubt send his men out on to the Old Trafford pitch with all cylinders firing, confident in his team’s ability to damage big clubs. Victory over Solksjaer’s Red Devils would require, in his own words, “a miracle” and, although that perhaps constitutes an overstatement, it would undeniably be a great achievement for one of Europe’s emerging coaches.
In his first season with Blauw-Zwart they are nine points clear in the Belgian pro-league and are closing in on what would be Clement’s second successive title, having won it with Genk the year before. An upset is therefore very much on the cards. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deigns to play a weakened side he will be punished for it and, the warning signs having been clear from the first leg, there will be no excuses.
Yet Manchester United remain deserved favourites. With an in-form Martial, 4 in 5 clean sheets and the rejuvenating impact of Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United will surely back themselves to advance to the round of 16.