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United Defeat Braga In Game Of Three Halves!

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In a game of 3 halves, a Manchester United team comprising a 50/50 combination of first team and the League Cup team claimed a last 16 place in the Champions League, proving that last seasons failure was an exception, as Manchester City look on jealously.

United played the first 2 halves of this game, the first being 45 minutes and the second being until the lights went out, with a 4-5-1 formation that threatened sporadically down the right and hardly at all on the left.

Antonio Valencia and Nani combined well enough but Javier Hernandez got no change from Braga’s centre-backs who played very close together and so gave him nothing at all. On the left United offered very little going forward as a poor Danny Welbeck delivered strong running but little else.

Ryan Giggs and Anderson occupied midfield with Wayne Rooney in the ‘Paul Scholes’ role. This was a very strange midfield three that delivered little in either defence or attack to the extent that United had nothing of note in goal attempts right up to the 70th minute.

I can only assume that Giggs and Anderson were supposed to cover in front of the back four with Rooney ahead of them but it really wasn’t clear at all as they were often either bunched or spread far apart out of position.

By contrast Braga were lively up front yet again, and yet created few clear cut chances except one that hit the post.

After the dubious penalty conceded by Jonny Evans, unluckily in my view (I mean what could he do to get out of the way?), the lights went out and in the third half Rio Ferdinand and Robin van Persie came on as United switched to 4-4-2. Game on.

Now we had just Anderson and Giggs in midfield and the confusion was gone but Braga could break on the back four as Rooney went wide left and the energy required by the midfield 2 sapped. The game opened up and RVP took advantage of a quick free kick and a bad error by their keeper to score a poachers goal. He is a talented player at the top of his game.

The make up call for the Rooney penalty, which he almost missed as he slipped and fired high into the net, was credit to the more open game Sir Alex Ferguson had formulated. When Chicarito scored the third goal *that was also due to poor defending) the team celebrated the success that 4 less than convincing wins have given.

It’s quite amazing that we have yet to play well in this seasons Champions League, yet qualify with 2 games to spare, so we can rest players and focus on the League.

Performances of note included the welcome return of Chris Smalling, who was calm and in control all night. Welcome back Chris.

I thought Valencia did OK at right-back apart from once letting his winger fly past him, almost as though he forgot Rafael wasn’t behind him. Rio brought his brand of control when the erratic Evans left the game.

In midfield Giggs looked his age, the day before Sir Alex celebrates the 26th anniversary of his arrival. That 2-0 loss to Oxford looks a long time ago now!

Anderson and Nani gave reasonable performances in the country we sourced them from, and Rooney did just enough but still looks out of sorts to me.

Frankly this week has been very strange. The win over Arsenal was achieved with little passion, and Braga too were also beaten with a lot to spare when the players decided to try their best.

Top of the league in November, in the last 16 of the Champions League as well. That’s more than we expected.

But $12.50 a share, out of the League Cup and not really on top form does suggest things aren’t all they seem at Old Trafford.

I’m still convinced that we need Phil Jones fit and well to cover at right back, and we are one box to box midfielder short of a team that can win the league.

However given the summer failure to land Moussa Dembele, Luka Modric or Chieck Tiote. this team is not disappointing where it matters, with points on the board.

So…..Congratulations Manchester United! We want our trophy back.

By Steve Burrows CBE @ifollowsteve

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