Manchester United will confirm their place in the Champions League knockout stages if they can win away to Braga at the spectacular Estadio AXA on Wednesday (7.45 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
United geared up for the trip to Portugal with a 2-1 victory at home to Arsenal. The winning margin could have been much greater had United not been so profligate in front of goal and Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping for greater ruthlessness on Wednesday.
That victory was United’s 12th in 15 matches in all competitions so far this season.
They have scored 38 times (2.53 per match, on average) and have scored twice or more in all but two matches.
Robin Van Persie has hit the ground running following his summer move from Arsenal, scoring ten times in all competitions, including the opening strike against his former club at the weekend. With forwards Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck also on United’s books, plus the likes of Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa slightly further back, it is little surprise that they have scored so plentifully this season.
They have been less impressive defensively, however, conceding 23 times (1.53 per match, on average) and keeping just three clean sheets to date. The forwards have had to score with such regularity in order to make up for the fact Utd have conceded the first goal of the match on eight occasions this season. Of those matches, two ended in defeat, while they came from behind to win the other six.
One of those six was the first encounter with Braga, two weeks ago at Old Trafford. The Portuguese side raced into an early lead, scoring two simply constructed goals within the first twenty minutes of play. Utd got one back before half time and then scored twice more after the break to reverse the visitors’ advantage, securing a 3-2 victory that kept their 100% Champions League record intact.
Ferguson is still without Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in defence, while Kagawa and Welbeck will also miss out through injury. He is likely to put out a strong team knowing that he can rest players in the final two group matches if qualification is secured on Wednesday.
His opposite number Jose Peseiro will also call upon his first choice eleven and has no fresh injury concerns following Braga’s 3-1 win over Gil Vicente at the weekend. The club have started the domestic season strongly and are currently third in the Portuguese league, three points shy of joint leaders Porto and Benfica.
Peseiro’s men have obtained three points from their Champions League fixtures to date, winning away to Galatasaray, but losing at home to CFR Cluj and away to United. They are third in the group, just a point behind Cluj, but know that regardless of Wednesday’s outcome they are likely to need a result in Romania if they hope to progress to the knockout stages for the first time in the club’s history.
Braga have established themselves as credible challengers at the top of the Portuguese league in recent times and have achieved league finishes of 2nd, 4th and 3rd in the last three campaigns.
The current side has a neat midfield, which features the likes of Custodio, Ruben Micael and Hugo Viana, and two good forwards in Alan – scorer of both goals at Old Trafford – and Eder who are capable of causing problems for United’s rearguard. Like United they have only failed to score two or more goals on two occasions this season and average a highly credible 2.25 goals per match.
They are, however, not the most watertight defensively. They have been a little looser under Peseiro than under last season’s coach Leonardo Jardim, scoring more goals, but also conceding at a quicker rate. These are factors that have combined to make them the club whose matches have featured the most goals (3.88 on average) in the Portuguese league so far this season.
Sporting Braga v Man Utd Betting Tips Verdict
This promises to be an open encounter featuring two teams who are good going forward but less impressive defensively. Home advantage will obviously tip the balance a little in Braga’s favour, but we feel that Man Utd will be determined to wrap up their qualification for the next phase and have the necessary quality in the final third to outscore their opponents and achieve that aim.