Champions League Qualifying Round Preview
United face Club Brugge KV in a Champions League qualifying tie for the right to play in the competitions group stage starting in September. Whilst fans may consider that United could be facing tougher opposition, (Lazio, CSKA Moscow, Sporting Lisbon and Monaco all reached the final qualifying round), United will not take the opposition lightly as they strive to return to Europe’s leading club competition.
Belgian football is strong at the moment but the majority of the very best Belgian players ply their trade abroad, notably in the Premier League, (think Kompany, Hazard, Benteke and of course our own Fellaini and Januzaj). Last year Club Brugge finished top in the regular season of the Belgian league, four points ahead of Gent, but in the mini-league to Championship play-off to decide the ultimate Champions they lost out finishing second two points behind Gent. Consolation came from winning the Belgian Cup and Super Cup. They entered the Champions League qualifiers in the last round eliminating Panathinakos with a 3-0 home win after losing the first game in Greece 1-2.
Historically Club Brugge have competed with RSC Anderlecht for domestic supremacy. This rivalry reached a peak in the 1970’s during a period when Club Brugge themselves reached two European finals losing out to Liverpool on both occasions, (in the 1976 UEFA Cup Final and the 1978 European Cup Final). Club Brugge have won 13 Belgian League titles and 11 Belgian Cups; their last league title success was in 2005.
Midfield schemers Ruud Vormer and Victor Vazquez
The side are currently managed by former Belgian international goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme who took over in September 2013. He usually favours a 4-2-3-1 system, although he has been known to switch to a 3-4-3 system on occasions. Players to watch are Ruud Vormer, Victor Vazquez and the Uruguayan Godez; all midfield players. The club also has a number of highly rated young players; Thomas Meunier a 23-year-old right back and the giant 6’5” 19-year-old striker Obbi Oulare.
The most notable players though are perhaps Ruud Vormer and Victor Vazquex. Vormer was signed from Feyenoord in his native Holland in 2014 having previously played under Van Gaal at AZ 67 Alkmaar. Vormer had moved on to Roda JC however by the time Van Gaal won the Eredivisie at AZ in 2009. Victor Vazquez was signed from Barcelona in 2011 on a free transfer. An attacking midfield player, he only made one La Liga appearance for Barca, but shared a football education at La Masia alongside Messi, Fabregas and Pique.
Club Brugge have a reputation as a modest but technically functional side and if United can contain the energy of Oulare up front then they should progress.