Sporting Braga were Europa League finalists in 2011 and are likely to provide a stiffer test of the Old Trafford club than Stoke City did at the weekend. Manchester United need four more points in the group stages to reach their qualification target and will be looking for a professional home performance this week. The problem is, the camp is starting to split apart. Rio Ferdinand’s refusal to wear a t-shirt on Saturday is just the beginning of Sir Alex Ferguson’s problems.
The issue of racism in football is gathering a huge amount of coverage right now and the prominent figures in the game deserve credit for trying to eradicate it from our sport. Both Ferdinand and Ferguson’s standpoints are understandable. It is important to note that they also have exactly the same objectives. They both want racism kicked out of football and they both want Manchester United to win. That is an encouraging place for dialogue to start. One hopes a sensible resolution can be reached on this most delicate of topics.
This week sees United enter a period in which they will play two matches a week almost every week until the end of the year. Squad management is now key to the maintenance of their ambitions. Considering the fact that in Jones, Smalling and Vidic the defence still has three notable absentees, Rio and Fergie could have chosen a better time to fall out.
Braga qualified after seeing off Udinese in a penalty shootout and have been inconsistent in their travails so far this season. They haven’t played for two weeks and could be a little ring-rusty when they take the field in Manchester.
One man on the pitch at kick off may well be David de Gea. There have been some very unhelpful reports in Spain this week that de Gea is pining for a move back home. This may well be connected to his recent acquisition of the famously disruptive Jorge Mendes as agent. There is nothing about that which is good news. He has a point to prove as a player and needs to focus on keeping clean sheets.
Another man keen to earn his keep is Shinji Kagawa. The former Borussia Dortmund man has gone on the record citing unhappiness with his early performances at United. His attitude is tremendous and he is a massive talent. United fans will be delighted that he is determined to prove himself too.
Wayne Rooney has scored 5 goals in nine days but could be rested against the Portuguese. Javier Hernandez played well on Mexican duty last week and it is time for him to take the field. The dizzy heights of his first campaign have not been matched and he needs to start shining soon.
In nine days, after this game and two matches against Chelsea, United will be much clearer on how much punch they pack this season. Ferguson’s job is to keep getting results and restore unity to the camp at the same time. A strong performance against Braga would be a good place to start.
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