By Andrew Embling
- United face two-legged tie against Club Brugge for Champions League place
- Romero looks set to keep his place
- Schweinsteiger and Herrera may be pushing for starts
Venue: Old Trafford Date and Kick-Off: Tuesday 18 August 7.45pm (BST)
Manchester United return to Champions League action on Tuesday night when they take on Club Brugge in the first leg of their qualifying round.
United missed out on European football last season after their disappointing campaign under David Moyes, but made the Premier League top four again last time out to book their place in this season’s competition.
Louis van Gaal would have been delighted to have avoided the likes of Lazio and Monaco in the draw, with Club Brugge the weakest side on paper from those United could have faced. The Belgian side reached the playoff stage by defeating Greek side Panathinaikos over two legs.
Who Are Club Brugge?
But Brugge will be no pushovers, having reached the Europa League quarter final as well as finishing second in the Belgian title play-offs last season. Second only to Anderlecht, Brugge have a fine history and are coached by former international goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme.
Whilst they may not boast many household names outside of Belgium in their playing squad, especially compared to the array of riches Louis van Gaal can call upon, they do include Costa Rican centre back Oscar Duarte and former Belgian international Timmy Simons amongst their number.
Simons is the second most capped Belgian international, having played for the likes of PSV Eindhoven and FC Nuremberg before returning to Brugge for a second stint at the club. If United are rash inside the box they could be punished, with Simons well known for his ability from 12 yards as well as his defensive midfield duties.
They will also look to vice-captain, 28-year-old Victor Vasquez, to pull the strings in midfield and the Spaniard has plenty of talent having played over 100 times for Barcelona B and a solitary appearance for the full side before switching to Belgium. Israeli international Lior Refaelov is also one to watch, the midfielder, who scored the winner in the Belgian Cup final, will be full of attacking intent.
Manchester United On A Hiding To Nothing
United will be huge favourites and will be expecting to win the first leg at Old Trafford without too many concerns. Brugge currently sit fourth in the Jupiler Pro League having collected seven points from their four games so far, whilst United have taken maximum points from their opening two games in the Premier League and are yet to concede a goal.
Romero seems likely to keep his place in goal for United having secured consecutive clean sheets for his new club, whilst van Gaal has confirmed that he will not pick David de Gea whilst the transfer window is still open despite the Spaniard being included in the Champions League squad.
United’s back four have played a big part in the two shut outs this season and Van Gaal is unlikely to change a winning line up, with Darmian and Shaw both impressing at full back and Smalling and Blind both picking up Man of the Match awards from the television pundits.
Morgan Schneiderlin has also impressed for his new team alongside Michael Carrick, although the England international has made way in both games this season for German captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is slowly finding his fitness as well as demonstrating his calm assurance in the midfield. Adnan Januzaj could start again after his winning goal against Aston Villa, with Mata and Memphis supporting captain Wayne Rooney up front.
Rooney has not yet got going in the opening fixtures, but the game on Tuesday may kick start his season as he aims to close the gap on United’s club goal scoring record still further.
Should United make it through they will pit their wits against the cream of European football again in the Champions League proper, but they can’t afford to go into the game with complacency because Brugge will be out to make a name for themselves.
Van Gaal will be hoping his side can earn themselves a convincing win at Old Trafford to avoid any potential banana skins in the second leg, but United will have to be more creative than they have been in their opening two games of the season with just two goals scored and a handful of chances created.
European nights at Old Trafford are special and that might just give the players the edge they need to produce the exciting brand of football United are famed for.
Predicted Manchester United Starting XI: Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Mata, Januzaj, Memphis, Rooney