Manchester United 3-2 S.C. Braga
Manchester United supporters once again underwent yet another cardiac comedy caper as they teetered on the edge of a precipice at Old Trafford. Down 0-2 to a minimally talented S.C. Braga team, United finally managed to toss the banana skin they’d done some goofy pratfalls on into the rubbish bin before getting three back, allowing themselves to advance one step closer toward the Champions League knockout phase.
Defense? This is not a concept United’s coaching faculty seems to care about. After both exhausted veterans, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, performed so disappointingly at the weekend over Stoke City, it was logical that Sir Alex Ferguson needed to rest them both in spite of having no one truly legitimate to replace them. Once again then, the Gaffer rolled the dice again and won again! Indeed, it was clear from the very beginning of the match, as Michael Carrick–press-ganged once again into playing at center back instead of callous youths Wootton or Keane–stood in the tunnel with his eyelids fluttering and the body language of a moose with gout on the first day of hunting season, that the Lord Ferg believes that, battle-formation wise, Dunkirk precedes D-Day. One match at a time!
At any rate, once again, the opposition scored on United first for the eighth time in twelve matches as, 90 seconds in, winger Hugo Viana hopped past United’s new young left back Alexander Büttner before squaring the ball to Braga’s veteran Brazilian striker, Alan Da Silva,who headed the ball past a frozen David De Gea, instantaneously silencing a raucous Stretford End.
Remaining in a state of shock, a lackluster United kept up their zombie defensive demeanor. And 20 minutes in, with Carrick already having backed away from challenging Alan, Eder and Viana repeatedly, the mierda was bound to hit the proverbial fan. With David De Gea clearly screaming at him to engage his opponent, Carrick froze, and the slick-hipped Eder, showed an exquisite gift for passing technique as he supplied a killer ball for Alan to deftly fire past a squirming De Gea’s near post. Make no mistake, this was not a hammering United were taking, nothing at all like the diet of Basque wupass administered to us with so much gusto last season by Athletic Bilbao, Braga are a too ordinary a side. Lazy and arrogant, the notion that our fee-scoring forward line will get the job done, seems to be turning United’s once vaunted back line into Rafael and the three dossers.
Yet with Sir Alex Ferguson sat there on the bench sucking at his teeth. someone in the Stretty had the inspiration to launch into ‘We all live in a red submarine!’ the old Beatles chestnut working like a magic spell as Robin Van Persie’s brilliant footwork saw him dispossess the ex-Newcastle winger Viana before cutting inside from the left. At that point, he was chopped down by left back Leandro Salino, but the referee, Milorad Mazic, allowed United the advantage as the ball went to Shinji Kagawa. He floated a cross on to Hernández’s head and, even though Beto got his fingers to the ball, it squeezed past him into the net to make it 2-1 in the 25th minute. Then, two minutes later, Braga’s goal was under assault again as Hernandez, often guilty of offside infractions, met another sweetly hit Kagawa pass, which drew a whistle from the Bosnian referee. Mazic, as it hit the net. Replays clearly showed the referee and his crew definitely got that one wrong, but it was to prove, ultimately immaterial.
In spite of Kagawa’s cleverness and diligence, he was limping noticeably by the 40th minute. Ferguson clearly zeroed in on just how difficult the full backs Nuño Andre and Leandro Salino found handling the Japanese and brought on the stronger, speedier Nani to take his place in the second half. Already tired, Braga could do nothing to stop Rooney and Nani controlling the flanks for the rest of the match. Defensively naked, Braga repeatedly gave up corners and put ten men behind the ball. Braga’s goalie Beto was an admirable last line of defense, but he simply couldn’t stop the bleeding a,s in the 62nd minute, after the brilliant Rafael was fouled just outside the box on the right flank, Robin Van Persie fooled Braga with a low free kick which curved perfectly outward into a spot perhaps an inch in front of Jonny Evans. Completely unmarked, Evans had enough time to fluff his kick, see it bounce off Carrick’s shoulder, drop again, and then spear it home with his toe through Beto’s legs into the net.
Meanwhile, well protected by both Fletcher and Rooney in the second half, Cleverley’s relentless passing game began to reap dividends and come into its own late in the match. With fifteen minutes to go, Cleverley rode past two inept tackling attempts by Custodio and Zé Louis before firing a superb cross which Chicharito was perfectly placed to nod home for the winner.
Naturally, the end of the match wouldn’t have been the same without Carrick and Evans and then a sloppy De Gea clearance gifting bad balls to Eder and Alan Da Silva which they really ought to have scored with. Too exhausted to take their late gifts, both hit soft attempts at De Gea. Living so dangerously seems to be de riguer for Manchester United in this campaign. I was, nevertheless, reminded by a fellow fan that the last time we let so many early goals in so often was the treble season of 1998-99. Now bring on Chelsea: I doubt that their fans have too much confidence in their center back pairing of David Luiz or Gary Cahill either.