CLUB BRUGGE vs MANCHESTER UNITED
Holding a two goal advantage from the first leg United headed to Belgium looking to finish the job. The tie was by no means over given the away goal scored by Club Brugge in Manchester but the smart money was on United progressing to the group stages of the competition against a modest opponent.
- United were comfortable throughout this game. They controlled possession with good movement on the ball and waited for Club Brugge to over commit. When they did United struck.
- The key was United’s movement off the ball. Darmian and Shaw pushed forward providing width whilst Schweinsteiger and in the second half Carrick patrolled in front of the defence.
- Januzaj’s movement was across the line pulling the Brugge defensive midfield player from side to side. In the second half when Herrera was pushed forward he provided more thrust from front to back and this generated goals as he linked with Scwhweinsteiger. In wide areas Mata and Memphis moved inside with Mata often appearing almost as a second number 10.
- The key factor was that as Club Brugge tired and gaps appeared United exploited the spaces with a greater number of vertical passes.
- Rooney played well here but would perhaps have scored more if he was in more clinical form in front of goal. That seems unfair given that he scored a hat-trick, but he could and should have scored more with a number of chances going begging. Hernandez was also profligate late in the game missing a penalty and a close range open net.
Making just one change to their line-up United started the game in a 4-2-3-1. Carrick tended to stay deep and drop between the centre-backs to start the build-up play from the back and Herrera tended to stay higher and offer a more aggressive game when Brugge had the ball.
Herrera gave away three fouls in the first 12 minutes and was booked for the third; he was also the United player most likely to give away possession. Herrera gives energy and drive, but this does need to be channelled effectively. The home side started in a 4-1-3-2 shape with De Sutter and Diaby as their central strikers. They of course needed to chase the game given United’s two goal advantage. Brugge had suffered a number of injuries since the first leg and consequently came into the game with five changes.
First half shape and the overly-aggressive Herrera
Within minutes the shape of the game was established. United had the majority of possession and passed the ball well. They were patient and kept the ball, Brugge waited their opportunites to turn-over possession and then tried to hit United quickly thorough breakaways. As identified Carrick dropped deep, and Smalling often pushed on beyond him on the right hand side of the defensive line when United had the ball. Further forward on the right Mata, notionally the right winger deliberately came in side leaving space outside for Darmian to advance. Januzaj worked across the line pulling Claudemir, Brugge defensive midfield player this way and that.
This repeated a pattern established in previous games this season and perhaps Preud’Homme the Brugge coach has been watching for whenever Club Brugge won the ball they immediately switched play to their left, United’s right and looked to attack Darmian. Presumably they had identified that when Mata comes inside Darmian is potentially exposed. Darmian coped fairly well with this and Brugge never really got behind him but they were able to deliver a number of difficult crosses from the left to United’s far post, specifically towards Blind. With some luck and some judgement United coped.
Then United scored and this effectively killed the tie neutralizing the away goal conceded at Old Trafford. As in the first leg Memphis picked up the ball and ran inside across and in front of the line of the defensive line. In the first game we identified that this gave the Brugge centre-backs a decision to make. Do they maintain their position or come out to meet him? In the first game they maintained their position and allowed him too much time and space to shoot. Now De Fauw came out to close down Memphis. The United man therefore played a simple straight ball beyond the advancing defender to Rooney. Boom! The pass split the defence and Rooney calmly lifted the ball over the goalkeeper as he rushed out. This was a welcome goal for Rooney. 20 minutes played 1-0.
The pattern of the game now changed. Having conceded if Brugge were to have any chance in the tie they really had to “chance their arm” and force the issue. Inevitably this would leave them more vulnerable to further goals. The second part of the first half then saw Brugge push forward and maintain a higher line. This left space for United to exploit. Brugge had slightly more of the ball now but United were far more likely to move it forward quickly when they won it back. United could and perhaps should have scored again before the break with Memphis featuring prominently in a number of breakaways. Unfortunately they often chose the wrong passing option in this period, notably when Memphis should have played Rooney in but hesitated and then chose to shoot himself. His effort was delayed and smothered by a defender.
At half time Schweinsteiger replaced Januzaj. This saw Herrera move to the number 10 position with Schweinsteiger playing as a pivot alongside but ahead of Carrick.
Team shape early in the second half after the introduction of Scwhweinsteiger
Before any pattern had been established United scored again. United won the ball via Schweinsteiger pressing Castelleto. Shaw picked up the loose ball who quickly fed Memphis who moved the ball quickly to Herrera. Herrera returned the ball across the penalty area from right to left and the ball was met by Rooney who fired home from close range. Boom! 49 minutes played 2-0.
Now United were able to sit deep and Brugge enjoyed some good possession without making any significant impression. When United won the ball they were adept at retaining it and moving it quickly through Scwheinsteiger and Herrera towards the front line. What was noticeable here was not only the gaps opening in the Brugge team shape but the greater incidence of forward passing through the middle of the pitch. Where United had previously often passed square this season they were now triangulating passes through the idle of the pitch and looking to thread balls between and beyond the Brugge centre backs.
The next goal however came from an attack down the right. Schweinsteiger fed Herrera who moved the ball outside to Mata. He was already on the move running centrally and he took the ball inside to place a straight pass splitting the defence for Rooney to run onto. Boom! 56 minutes 3-0. In many ways this was just like Rooney first goal supplied by Memphis from the left, this time Mata set it up in exactly the same way from the right. United were now opening Brugge up at will with quick early direct passing. Rooney should have scored again when played in by Mata just after his third goal.
On 62 minutes Van Gaal replaced Mata with Young.
Herrera was now a real handful, linking with Schweinsteiger he regularly turns upon receipt of the ball and either ran at the centre of the Brugge defence or looked to thread balls past them. Ironic then that on 63 minutes the next goal was as a consequence of a defence splitting ball by Schweinsteiger beyond the defence for Herrera himself to run onto. Boom! 4-0.
Straight after this goal Van Gaal removed Herrera who had been booked in the first half and introduced Hernandez. Hernandez now led the line with Rooney dropping into the number 10 position.
United’s shape late in the game after the introduction of Hernandez
United weren’t having it all their own way and Brugge hit the bar with a speculative shot after 65 minutes, but generally despite some good periods of possession they didn’t create significant problems. When United won the ball they always looked dangerous on the break.
In fact they should really have scored more. Hernandez missed a penalty on 80 minutes slipping ala John Terry as he struck the ball and also missing an open net from close range in the 89th minute.
This match presented United with a different set of problems from those they are usually facing in premier league games. Then opponents sit deep, retain their shape and discipline and invite United to break them down. United are struggling with this.
Here Club Brugge could not do that as they were facing a two goal deficit from the first leg. They needed to be more assertive at some point and force the issue. United could wait for them to over commit and for gaps to materialize. This is what happened in the game and with Club Brugge tiring in both halves, (perhaps they were less used to playing a high tempo game for 90 minutes), United had plenty of chances. If they had been more clinical United would have scored more.
United’s play here was also better than in premier league games with more vertical passing that of late. This is almost certainly as a consequence of Club Brugge losing some defensive discipline and in fairness their defensive was disrupted in this game by injuries, but United played far fewer square passes than they have in other games this season and far more passes through the centre of the pitch. Perhaps the busy presence of Herrera, particularly in the second half helped in this respect.
Job done and group stage qualification secured.