Having missed out on Europe’s elite competition for the first time in 19 years last season, Louis Van Gaal has a huge task in his hands to get Manchester United to where they rightfully belong. Standing in between the Red Devils and a place in the main draw are Belgian side Club Brugge KV who will face the English giants for the first time in their history in a competitive game. United have made a cautious start to their Premier League season with back-to-back 1-0 wins, looking better organised at the back than they have been for the best part of last 24 months and will look to give it all they have got in the first leg to be held at Old Trafford where they usually fancy themselves against most sides in Europe. Manager Louis Van Gaal has highlighted the importance of winning the tie and sealing a place in the main draw when he said:
“It’s going to be a big night on Tuesday. It’ll be a big two games in fact – they could help set us up for the season. What we have to gain [from winning the tie] is very important, but you approach both matches as any other games. We want to win on Tuesday and not concede. Hopefully we can get a good start and take a lead to their place. We’ll be ready.”
Club Brugge will probably relish the opportunity to knock Manchester United out and they have done well for themselves having got through to this stage by beating Panathinaikos 4-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round. Not to mention, they enjoyed an impressive 15-game unbeaten run en route to the quarter-finals of last season’s Europa League, conceding only six goals along the way. They will make the trip to Manchester on the back of a 3-game unbeaten run in their domestic league. Boss Michel Preud’homme is familiar with United’s very own Belgian Marouane Fellaini – having helped the towering midfielder during the formative stages of his career – and will certainly look forward to the meeting at Old Trafford and try to upset the odds stacked against themselves.
Louis Van Gaal has no pressing injury concerns to deal with as Phil Jones will be the only notable absentee owing to a mild thrombosis issue that will sideline him for a good two weeks at least.
Club Brugge will miss a few key players for the first leg with wingers Refelov and Ibini-Isei nursing broken navicular bone and fibula respectively while centre forward Nicolas Castillo will also miss the trip due to a rupture knee filament he suffered last season. Right-back Thomas Meunier is also out of contention for the first leg and possibly both legs owing to his knee injury.
United have won all three previous home games against Belgian opponents by an aggregate score of 18-1. All those matches were against Anderlecht.
Club Brugge have yet to win in 11 games in England (D2 L9). They are also winless in six matches (home and away) against English teams since a 1-0 first-leg success over Chelsea in the 1994/95 UEFA Cup Winners’ Quarter-Finals (they succumbed 2-0 in the return).
United have never lost a UEFA Champions League or European Cup qualifying tie; their sole defeat in 16 qualifying games in the competitions was a 1-0 reverse at Zalaegerszeg in the 2002/03 third qualifying round.
Morgan Schneiderlin – Manchester United
Manchester United have long been accused of lacking steel in central midfield but in Morgan Schneiderlin, Louis Van Gaal has brought back that much needed quality that United will need to not just win games but also control them. Schneiderlin will play his debut season in the Champions League with the Red Devils and for a player of his ability, taking to the rigors of the high-level tournament will not take long, to be honest. He’s enjoyed a good start to the domestic league helping United keep two clean sheets in a row by ably shielding the back four and winning possession in key areas at vital periods, showing glimpses time and again of what he could after fully settling in. His presence in the middle will be crucial for United to not only winning this tie but also progressing further in the competition.
Tom De Sutter – Club Brugge KV
For Brugge, the game-plan should be simple and straight-forward. The Belgian side will look to contain United’s explosive attack which maybe under-performing at the moment. But in theory, United should think going into this game that they have enough in their front-line to be able to settle the tie at Old Trafford. Michel Preud’homme will set his side to defend and stay organised and try to pounce on the counter or alternatively afford to call upon the services of the big man Tom De Sutter who on his day can cause havoc in the box with his physical presence and also serve as the target man kind of a forward, which might trouble United’s central defenders, especially Daley Blind, who is still adapting to playing more central than his preferred full-back role.
Despite Manchester United’s unconvincing performances going forward, I really cannot put it past them to manage a comfortable win at home.
Manchester United 2-0 Club Brugge KV