Manchester United will look to make it nine points from three games in the Champions League on Wednesday against Braga and in doing so put themselves within touching distance of a place in the knockout phase.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson was desperate to avoid a repeat of the ignominy that saw them exit the competition uncharacteristically early last season and in terms of results it has been a case of so far, so good. However, in narrow wins against both Galatasaray and CFR Cluj, United looked some way short of a side that could challenge for the Champions League trophy come May.
For much of the season, both in Europe and in the Premier League, United have needed to rely on their array of attacking talent to compensate for clear deficiencies in defense and in midfield. Those problems could again be on show against Braga, with Ferguson already announcing that both Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra will be rested ahead of Sunday’s crunch meeting with Chelsea. That is likely to mean that summer signing Alexander Buttner comes into the side at left-back, while 21-year-old Scott Wootton should take Ferdinand’s place in the heart of the back four.
United would be wise not to take the Portuguese side lightly. Braga’s form has been impressive away from home in European competition, as they have gone seven matches unbeaten. That streak was maintained last time out as Braga pulled off an impressive 2-0 win in Turkey against Galatasaray. It was a much-needed victory for Jose Peseiro’s side after the disappointment of a shock home defeat to Cluj on matchday one.
Braga currently sit third in the Portuguese Liga and will likely be looking for goals from striker Eder, who has struck four goals in as many league games this season.
While Braga have gone five games unbeaten against English opposition, Manchester United have never lost at home to a side from Portugal.
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Rafael, Evans, Wootton, Buttner
M: Cleverley, Carrick
Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa
F: Van Persie
D: Salino, Douglao, Vinicius, Elderson
M: Custodio, Viana
Amorim, Silva, Micael
Prediction: This promises to be another uncomfortable night in the Champions League for Manchester United. Braga are arguably better away from home, where they can rely on counter attacking, and they could well cause United’s inexperienced defense plenty of problems at Old Trafford.
Once again, though, United’s ability in the final third could well be enough to secure victory.
Manchester United 2-1 Braga
Where to watch: The Champions League Group H contest kicks-off at 7.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available via FoxSoccer2Go.