Tuesday, 25 August 2015

AWAY IN BELGIUM


Perspective was yet again shone onto Manchester United's apparent toothless-ness on Saturday following a goalless stalemate at home. For the club's fifth game of the month, the focus will not change. Manchester United need to go to Belgium and protect a two goal advantage to complete the long mission of getting into Friday's group stage draw of the Champions League.

The Match
Well it's simple. That late Marouanne Fellaini goal in the home fixture last week has given United the all important cushion ahead of Wednesday's decider. Before that goal, lose 1-0 and the European adventure would have been over before it started. As is it stands, United can afford to progress by the same scoreline now.

With a little bit of relief in that aspect, it will be interesting if the manager therefore affords some of the 'less trusted' players a run out in what are surely going to be hostile conditions in West Flanders. With a fixture-loaded opening month to deal with, the manager has so far kept more or less the same team throughout. However, testing premier league business to sort out in Wales on Sunday means that Louis van Gaal needs to be clever about sending out a side that is good enough to get a result whilst not necessarily risking all his key players for a fixture that will carry much less pressure than the weekend one.

Indeed, United are so light-weight at the back that we all hold our breath in anxiety over the fitness of Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw. Admittedly, they've looked very fit so far, but we've had our finger burned enough times to sit comfortably.

We saw enough about Club Brugge last week to know exactly what to expect and it's not as daunting as it could have been if we had just the one goal lead. United simply need to score to effectively put the tie to bed. The defensive performances so far this season suggest that we shouldn't let in more than the odd goal, certainly not three! Stranger things have happened though.

The Opposition
Michel Preud'homme suggested that he had no solutions to United in the first leg so we should hope that he hasn't found that solution yet. What we can be sure of is that Club Brugge have nothing to gain from defending and will therefore come at United from the off, if only to unsettle us with an early goal.  Louis van Gaal's 'control' philosophy will therefore be key here. Sometimes he has gone about the simplest of domestic tasks with complicated approaches. He should find it exciting to counter the plans of Preud'homme on foreign territory.

The Sub-Plots
Wayne Rooney equaled his record of 10 club games without a goal on Saturday (albeit unfortunate with the disallowed goal) and so the focus shall yet again be on whether he finally finds the back of the net. I'd imagine though that the smart move would be to play Javier Hernandez up top with Wayne just behind him and at least allow him the joy of pinging balls to someone ahead of him. He seems to have missed that. The other alternative is to bring in Ander Herrera and or Ashley Young for Adnan Januzaj or Memphis Depay. Certainly Fellaini will get minutes at some stage. Whether his involvement will be a plan A or B remains to be seen.

United were unlucky poor in the final third on Saturday against Newcastle United but seemed to find much joy behind the North West Belgian side in the first leg. Perhaps tomorrow is another opportunity for them to build up their confidence in front of goal ahead of a difficult assignment on Sunday.

Marcos Rojo has to get match fitness soon and sooner or later he has to feature to get his season underway. Is this the game? Or still too soon? 

The Bottom-Line
There is but one bottom line ahead of this one: Manchester United must be in the Champions League pot and not the Europa league pot on Friday for the draw. Any other outcome will be of cataclysmic standards.  

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