Manchester United 3-2 Braga: five things we learned | Paul Wilson
Sir Alex Ferguson still has plenty to mull over despite Manchester United's comeback victory over Braga
1 Ferguson decides that diamonds are not forever
Sir Alex Ferguson talked beforehand about Manchester United's tradition of playing with wide players, then selected the narrowest midfield diamond possible without any recognised wingers. Tom Cleverley, as England discovered in Poland, is only a notional wing presence who prefers to come inside, while Shinji Kagawa would normally occupy one of the diamond's inner points. United recovered, though Wayne Rooney's role in the diamond formation possibly needs refining, yet Ferguson could hardly fail to be struck by the irony that Braga's two goals in the opening 20 minutes both came from crosses from out wide. Kagawa and Cleverley did supply the crosses for Javier Hernández's well-taken goals, in fairness, though Cleverley still seems unsure of where his best position might be. When Nani came on for the second half he moved inside, with Rooney going wide left. Diamonds are evidently not forever.
2 United miss Ferdinand's defensive organisation
Rio Ferdinand's position in the United pecking order was strengthened after a mere 80 seconds. That's how long it took Braga to take the lead and there did not appear to be anyone organising the home defence as Hugo Viana swung over his cross from the left, much less dealing with the ball when it arrived in the penalty area. Alexander Büttner was the only player in a position to challenge Alan, and he allowed his opponent to get in front of him with predictable results. Say what you like about Ferdinand and his Kick It Out stance, he can usually be relied upon to head it out when confronted with a routine cross. The fact that Michael Carrick was beaten all ends up by the delightful piece of skill from Eder that led to Braga's second goal does not mean he was a poor choice as emergency centre half. But you did have to wonder firstly what he was doing so far out on the right, leaving just Jonny Evans in the middle to attempt to deal with the eventual cross, and secondly what was the emergency?
3 Rooney does not always have to be a workaholic
Rooney does a phenomenal amount of work in his new position at the top of the diamond, in the hole behind the two strikers, whatever you want to call it. He was in his own half as often than not, occasionally tackling back on the edge of his own penalty area, which is not ideal for at least a couple of reasons. When Rooney got to within shouting distance of the front two he was effective – one lofted pass to Robin van Persie after half an hour almost reprised the move that worked so impressively against CFR Cluj – but the United captain sometimes covers too much ground for his own good and before he switched to the wing in the second half he was just as likely to be found by Darren Fletcher's side as linking up with the front pair.
4 Question marks remain over shaky defence
Ferguson should know better by now than making rash pre-match comments to the effect that United are in a stronger position in Europe than he might have expected at this stage. It was practically inviting Braga to take the lead in under two minutes. Conceding two goals against Stoke at the weekend raised questions about the United defence, and Braga going two up in the first half did exactly the same. While United always seem to be able to score goals at the other end to make up for their lapses, the bad news as the Champions League progresses is that opponents tend to arrive at Old Trafford with a few more tricks up their sleeve than Stoke and Braga.
5 Attacking jigsaw not yet fitting together
5) Hernández's second strike of the night prevented United being indebted to a scruffy equaliser from Evans for earning a point. United looked more dangerous when they reverted to 4-4-2, though that could simply have been Braga tiring, yet Van Persie and Hernández rarely looked an effective partnership and Rooney is once again being switched around. With Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young in reserve Ferguson may have four or five of the sharpest strikers in England at his disposal, but the question from the start of the season remains: what is his best combination?
Filed under: Euro 2012
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