Club Brugge and Manchester United will face each other for the second time in eight days in a bid to decide who qualifies for the Champions League main draw in Brussels on Wednesday night. After a shock opening goal in the first leg from Club Brugge, the only goal United have conceded so far in 360 minutes of competitive football, albeit an own goal from Michael Carrick, Louis Van Gaal’s men responded in brilliant fashion scoring three goals putting themselves in the drivers seat ahead of the crucial second leg in Belgium. Club Brugge, however, will still fancy themselves at home, knowing they have a mountain to climb as only a win by a margin of 3 goals or more (or 2-0 by away goals rule) can see them through to the group stages of Europe’s Premier competition. They will host United on the back of a 2-0 defeat to Zulte-Waregem, a game in which their manager Michel Preudh’omme had rested a number of key players, clearly keeping the big rematch in mind.
Manchester United themselves are not in great form either, as the Red Devils were held to a frustrating goalless draw at home to Newcastle United after two narrow wins on the trot. Louis Van Gaal sounded disappointed in his post-match presser for his side failing to reward themselves with a goal or two in what according to him was their best performance of the season thus far. If anything, he will be relieved to be able to see his side in action again in midweek to build on their performance during the weekend and produce a more entertaining and goal-laden show, similar to the first leg at Old Trafford. Having played in Belgium himself, Van Gaal seems to have identified the importance of doing well in front of a raucous atmosphere you would associate with football grounds in Belgium, something he wants his players to look forward to with confidence. He said:
“It’s a difficult ground and it’s not a simple opponent. I have read in the papers in England that it’s simple and it’s a walkover, but it isn’t like that.”
As mentioned earlier, Michel Preudh’omme did rest a few key players during the weekend ahead of the second leg to field the strongest starting 11 available at his disposal. But still Captain Timmy Simmons will be ruled of the midweek clash after the muscle strain he sustained during the weekend alongside a few others in Refelov (navicular bone), Meunier (knee) and Castillo (knee). Brandon Mechele is definitely out through suspension after he picked up two yellow cards last Tuesday night.
For Manchester United, Bastian Schweinsteiger was taken off after 60 minutes against Newcastle and was seen hobbling towards the bench, but it is understood that the German midfielder will make the trip to Belgium. Phil Jones will be the only absentee who is still recovering from a mild thrombosis condition.
Wednesday’s hosts are unbeaten in 10 European home games (W6, D4) and beat Panathinaikos 3-0 in the previous round – a repeat of that result would eliminate United.
United have lost their last two European away matches by two-goal margins: 2-0 at Olympiacos in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League round of 16, and 3-1 at Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals. They have won only one of their last seven European away fixtures (W1 D3 L3).
Victor Vazquez – Club Brugge
The best player in Brugge and possibly the Belgian domestic League, Victor Vazquez, has already made his mark in the Champions League qualifying phase by scoring a goal and assisting one in 3 appearances for the Belgian giants. A La Masia graduate, the 28-year old Vazquez is known for his ability to pick a pass and set up his teammates through on goal, create opportunities out of nothing, which should be vital to Brugge, especially at home in front of their fans who they call their 12th man, all them more so when the onus is on them to score and blow the tie wide open. His added set-piece abilities will also come in handy against a well-drilled back four at Manchester United whose goalkeeper is yet to be tested this season.
Luke Shaw – Manchester United
Following a season of uncertainties with his fitness and hence his place in the starting 11, Luke Shaw has shown a great deal of improvement on his first year and is starting to look more like the left-back who was tipped to play for England for the next ten years or so. He looks fitter, faster and runs with the ball with more purpose than ever and is providing Manchester United an outlet on the left flank to attack in the mold of Patrice Evra in his pomp. Him and Depay make Manchester United’s left-hand side their most potent area where bundles of breathtaking runs and goals could come from, in the future. He is someone that Club Brugge could watch out for and prevent from doing all the damage.
Manchester United should have enough to win this second leg and qualify for the group stages.
Club Brugge 0-2 Manchester United.