It’s becoming something of a parlor trick, though it’s surely one that Sir Alex Ferguson would like to stop witnessing so frequently. Against Braga at Old Trafford, Manchester United again fell into an early hole, this time by two goals, before produce a stirring fight back to win 3-2.
The result gives United one foot in the knockout phase with nine points from three matches, but the performance again raised questions about their prospects going forward in the competition.
Alan took advantage of some early defensive lapses to give the Portuguese outfit a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes, before Javier Hernandez brought United back into contention midway through the opening period. With the momentum all in the home side’s favor, Jonny Evans brought United level before Hernandez scored his second to delight the Old Trafford faithful.
With Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra rested ahead of Sunday’s match with Chelsea, Michael Carrick was deployed in the center of defense with Alexander Buttner at left-back. And Braga took full advantage of the early susceptibility in their opponent’s unfamiliar back line.
The visitors were ahead inside only two minutes. Former Newcastle United midfielder Hugo Viana supplied a deep cross from the left and Alan got ahead of Alexander Buttner to head low past David de Gea from eight yards out.
With United still yet to get going, Braga would make it 2-0 in the 20th minute. Eder all too easily burst past makeshift defender Michael Carrick down the left to reach the byline before pulling it back to an unmarked Alan who coolly side-footed past a beleaguered De Gea. It was a terrible goal for United to concede; not only was Carrick badly caught out on the touchline, but Evans and Buttner were merely ball-watching as Alan converted the chance.
As it has been relied upon to do all too often this season, United’s attack would bring them back into the contest. After good work by Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, restored to the side, produced a pinpoint cross to the marginally onside Hernandez at the far post, who sent a header past Beto.
The Mexican poacher came close getting his second 10 minutes later. Van Persie and Wayne Rooney played a delightful one-two to send the Dutchman through down the left of the area before producing a teasing low cross that Hernandez just failed to make sufficient contact with at the near post.
United were left ruing the officials for them not going into half time level. Kagawa was incorrectly given offside as he broke free into the box and squared it for Hernandez to tap home into an empty net.
The match had now completely swung in United’s favor, though, and with Nani adding width to United’s attack in place of Kagawa at half time, the action continued to go almost exclusively toward the Braga goal after the break. Van Persie fired a free-kick from a crossing angle on the left that forced Beto into a smart save, while Rooney and Tom Cleverley almost created goals with threatening crosses.
The pressure almost inevitably led to a United equalizer, although it would arrive in unlikely and ungainly circumstances in the 62nd minute. From a left-wing corner, Carrick flicked the ball on with his back at the near post and after missing his kick at the first attempt, some less than assured defending allowed Evans a second attempt to bundle the ball over the line from four yards out.
Far from content, United continued on the offense in search of a winner.
Hernandez battled off the turf and past a challenge on the left touchline before cutting inside and finding Nani with a sumptuous pass, but the Portuguese winger’s rasping drive was well parried by Beto.
United would not have to wait long to complete the comeback. Hernandez rounded off a fine personal performance as he powered a header home at the far post after an excellent deep cross from the right by Cleverley.
The victory could have been made more comfortable had Van Persie found the target on his weaker right foot when clean through 10 yards out. The miss did not matter, though, and United look good to avoid the ignominy of their exit at the group phase last season.