United come from 2-0 down to beat Braga at home and stay top of their Champions League group
here with Sean Ingle and Shakhtar v Chelsea here with Rob Bagchi. And wait... the teams are in: Man Utd De Gea, Da Silva, Carrick, Evans, Buttner, Kagawa, Fletcher, Cleverley, Rooney, Hernandez, van Persie.
Braga Beto, Leandro Salino, Nuno Andre, Paulo Vinicius,
Elderson, Custodio, Hugo Viana, Ruben Amorim, Alan, Ruben Micael, Eder
From which, it looks like Michael Carrick will be playing in central defence. What could possibly go wrong? I wonder how he'll cope with the dangerous Alan.
It's a nice, attacking-looking United team, with Rooney the tip of what it is fashionable to call "a diamond" behind Van Persie and Hernandez, who you don't really hear so much about these days. As Gareth Southgate has said on ITV just now, the diamond is perhaps a good idea in Europe where United will be keen to keep possession in central areas. Of course, it's only really a diamond when you draw a diagram with blobs in the shape of a diamond. In reality it's more of a flee-floating morass of interchangeable bodies. But I'll call it a diamond if it helps.
And what of Braga? They won in Galatasaray, they keep the ball well, they have West Ham legend Hugo Viana in their ranks and they like to play on the counter attack. And that's, um, about it from me.
The players are out and ready to go. United, by the way, look surprisingly short, maybe as short as I for one have ever seen them. Not that it matters particularly, ahem, these days...
1 minBraga kick off in a terrible mint-green and black kit and immediately win a corner off Carrick who, we are told, is absolutely fine playing at the back. Alan's corner is scuffed and it's hacked away by Robin. But Braga still have it on the left..
2 mins GOAL!! Man Utd 0-1 Braga and it's a lovely goal, scored after 90 seconds by Alan. Elderson plays it back to Hugo Viana on the left wing and his deep, high cross is headed in very nicely by Alan/ Although to be fair it was far too easy, Alan nipping in front of Buttner and scoring from eight yards out. United, who have barely touched the ball, are behind again.
5 mins It was the goal you might have expected, with United fielding a defence made up of a tyro left back, a languid passing midfielder and the notably un-Jaap Stam-like Jonny Evans. United immediately force a corner but you get the feeling this is going to be a long night. It's tempting to say Rio Ferdinand might have stopped that. But, well, you know. It's not 2008.
9 mins Braga are flooding the centre of the pitch and clogging up United's rather laboured short-passing movements. In fact Ruben Micael almost scores again for Braga, breaking quickly and then having a shot that whistles just wide as Carrick ran backwards in front of him for a bit in the name, apparently, of "defending". United look quite lightweight. But they have a lot of good movement when they attack. And Paul Bergin offers: "Can I be the first to predict that the aforementioned Mr. Wilson will soon be releasing an article insisting that it is not a diamond but rather a throw-back to the 1970 Brazil side and their lopsided 4-2-2-2 to the sound of 'ooohs' and 'ah's' alike." Yup. The first all right.
12 mins Buttner has one very heavily tattooed arm. His other arm is, as yet, unruined. To me it looks a little lop-sided. All a little disjointed and cagey at the moment. Paul Bergin adds: "Oops. Turns out that mention of Jonathon Wilson was in the Shaktar versus Chelsea thread. Mea culpa." No. Me neither. And Matt Dony writes, rather unnkindly, "Maybe this game will be worthwhile afterall, Fiver-be-damned. I could watch teams score past Man Yoo for a very long time before I succumbed to boredom..." Personally I lasted about 80 seconds tonight.
16 mins Braga are in control of this game right now, making United chase the ball and looking far too comfortable in a stadium almost devoid of any noise whatsoever (apart from some chanting - in fluent Braga - from one corner). It's walking pace at the moment. Braga forward Alan, by the way, has very long braided hair in the style of a very muscular Floella Benjmain.
18 mins Ryan Dunne writes: "As well as being aesthetically dodgy (unlike the colours of my team, the Glorious Glasgow Rangers, who have recently released a pink top, with some proceeds going to charity) surely a green outfield kit is basically cheating? It's like camouflage!" It is almost exactly the same shade as the grass. And not in a nice way.
20 mins GOAL!! Man Utd 0-2 Braga and it's Alan again! It's also a terrible moment for Michael Carrick as Eder Jinks and then finally muscles his way past him with chastening ease before centering for Alan to prod home very neatly. Disastrous, this, for United, who have been almost entirely absent from this match, and who are being outplayed and out-smarted tactically. Frankly they look dreadful.
23 mins Perhaps, technically, there ought to be an assist for John Terry in that goal. JT racism storm + T-shirt furore + Ferdinand "rested" = Michael Carrick in defence. They need to get straight back into this.
26 mins GOAL!! Man Utd 1-2 Braga and they are back in it thanks to a goal from Hernandez that owes a lot to Van Persie, Kagawa and also the ref, who lets play go on as RVP is fouled after a nice jink inside, the ball runs to Kagawa who crosses accurately and Hernandez bundles it in bravely. Blimey. Maybe it's going to be one of those games.
29 mins United are now, if not quite at the races, then hurrying towards the races a sedan car, silk scarf flapping. Rooney finally picks up the ball in space and finds Van Persie with a nice pass. It;s on his right foot and flies wide. But there is a soft center there. At the other end United totally fail to clear a corner, the absence of a proper aggressive centre half absolutely obvious, and Alan has a go from 30 yards out, the ball skewing wide. It's all Alan out there.
34 mins Great chance for Hernandez after lovely one-touch stuff from Rooney and Van Persie. He can't quite get a proper stab on it. This game could end up 14-12 at this rate, or 27-35. And if alan doesn't get an Old Trafford hat trick from here I'll be amazed. It's a case of Towering Alan out there right now. United have the ball in the net but it's offside.
38 mins Ashwini Dubey still has hope: "Oh come on Barney! We all remember Turin, 1999". Hmm. Who's the Roy Keane, then? Show me your Andy Cole. Cleverley produces some unexpected dribbling skills and ends up being tripped/falling over/stumbling over his own feet on the corner of the box. No penalty. But encouraging stuff from the occasionally baffling midfielder, both for tonight and the longer notion of what exactly he does apart from passing the ball nicely over short distances.
42 mins Rooney's playing quite nicely, seems to be finding some space, his touch looks decent. He's a little deep ,aybe. Van Persie puts a decent cross in and five United players are closer to it than the their top scorer from last year. I think this diamond is going to die a death tonight. There will be changes. There will be wingers. When in doubt get it in the box a bit quicker. Someone with a fairly strong accent keeps shouting "No foul!" and "Offside!" and so on when the play is near the dugouts. I hope it's one of the assorted Dudes in Tracksuits and not the manager. Where's the dignity?
44 mins Nice little spell of passing by Braga ends with Hugo Viana shooting wide. Keeping the ball nicely still. They can certainly shift the ball about. They've got moves like Braga.
45+1 mins HALF TIME Braga 1-2 Man Utd And that is that for now. United were nowhere for the first 15 minutes. They played some nice stuff in spells after that, but it is all terribly flat, and they look a team totally lacking in bloody-minded will to win. Carrick as a center back has not been a success and Alan will wish he could play against him every week.
I'll be back in a moment with some more of your "thoughts" and a few slot-mouthed platitudes of my own.
I haven't really had any thoughts. Not even really simple Gareth Southgate-level ones like "they've got to get tight" . Luckily Justin Kavanagh has: "When he's finished with the half-time hair-dryer, I reckon Lord Ferg will go into the Braga dressing room and demand they change out of that green camouflage strip that's stopping his players picking up their runners."
Ian Copestake has this, to be filed under too-Cleverley-by-half:
"In response to your damning of Cleverley, the great hope of all English football, sir, I give you this (with apologies to Yeats):
Had I Fergie's' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with red and white light,
The blue (away kit) and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under Cleverley's feet:
But I, being a manc, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under Cleverley's feet;
Tread softly, Barney, because you tread on my dreams."
He likes Cleverley.
Nani has come on for Kagawa. I told you. Wingers. Diamond be damned.
46 mins United kick us off again and they've reverted to a 4-4-2, so much for fancy tactics, they'll be spending this half shouting "I'm POMO!" and making the third man run. Gary Wraith writes: "Anyone who's watched United in the past 2 years or so at this level will know that there's a huge gaping hole in this team. Its called Central Midfield. United don't have one, frankly. They frequently get found out at this level by average teams, let alone a decent one. They will need an entire midfield of Roy Keane's just to get out of the grou.." It was all going so well but you fell into the football mania trap. They will get out of it. But after that...
48 mins Custodio is booked for a foul 35 yards out. United fanny about with Nani rather than getting the ball in the box, but do win a corner in the end. Braga whump it clear. And United to look a bit better in their new shape, less flaky and lightweight in the middle. It is what they know. Also, you need two players in the middle unless one of those players is a super-human one man do-it-all midfield generalissimo, like nobody I can really think of ever doing that job successfully before. But Fletcher looks happier already anyway and United are playing the ball quicker.
52 mins Rafael, who looks very good on the ball tonight, beats two men and is then body-checked out of it. Van Persie's free kick is scythed in from the right and punched away slightly pointlessly by Beto in the foreign style. Braga are now defending with all eleven players camouflaged deep in their own area. Alan's hat-trick is looking a little distant now. Poor Alan.
57 mins Hernandez squirts through in space inside the Braga right back but can only force a corner, which Nani heads wide. United are completely on top now. Tim Smith asks "Why would Man U yell I'm "Permanent Open Market Operations?". No, no. It's Position Of Maximum Opportunity. England players used to shout it - "I'm POMO!" - under the long ball coachings of Charles Hughes to signify that the ball should be hoofed towards them at that exact moment. When Trevor Brooking lectures you about teaching 7-year-olds how to backheel a grape, remember that he used to shout "I'M POMO!" in England coaching videos.
61 mins Rooney makes a nice little break down the left after robbing Salino and crosses well, but the ball just evades Van Persie. United are still on top, but they need to score while Braga are playing like terrified hamsters. Beto claws Cleverley's cross away precariously. A goal would seem to be coming.
62 mins GOAL!! Man Utd 2-2 Braga and it was too. Jonny Evans with an amazing piece of skill, deliberately air-kicking in front of goal as Van Persie's corner comes in, and then burying the rebound as the Braga defence fails to clear. Might not have been totally deliberate on reflection. But Evans prodded home when it mattered and United have, for now, rescued this and really ought to win it from here.
66 mins And predictably Braga have taken a breath and got a little foothold back in this, remembering that they can, actually, pass the ball quite well. I wonder if United have it in them to keep that momentum going without having to gather themselves again. Rooney is playing on the left by the way, and totally dominating Salino. Harry Tuttle, harrumphs, presumably pre-equaliser, "Too many Andy Coles, and not a single Roy Keane in sight. Tom Cleverley not a patch on Ben Thornley." Andy Cole was fantastic. Hernandez is not yet half an Andy Cole. He's not even Andy Cole's leather jacket.
70 mins Alan gives away a free kick and produces an extraordinary display of hand-wringing, little-pleading-gesture-making arm-waggling frustration. He's changed. And Rafael continues to look potent on the right, where he has done nothing but bomb forward for the last 40 minutes. Braga have faded like a disappointing relationship.
72 mins United break brilliantly down the left wing, switch to the right wing, and a powerful shot from Nani is palmed away by Beto. That is United playing like a Ferguson United team, right there, counter attack down the flanks, great pace and purpose, nothing over-embroidered in the middle, and looking like their old selves rather than a fourth rate Barcelona impersonator. Hernandez did very well there to find Nani. And Adam Lecznar sends a long and detailed tactical email that ends with "We need to stop trying to unlock teams like Braga and remember how to batter them." Which, for now, sounds about right.
75 mins There you go. GOAL!! Man Utd 3-2 Braga and it came from the flanks. A lovely deep cross swung in by Cleverley, Beckham-style, and Hernandez is moving while everyone else stands still, running on to the ball and heading powerfully past Beto. A lovely finish and great movement from the Mexican goal-pea. What a bizarre game. Diamond. Oh really.
79 mins Just to recap. United were awful for 15 minutes at the start, utterly dominated by a jaunty looking Braga who seemed to have a lovely balance, forcing them back down the flanks, while United stumbled about with no urgency at all. Braga went 2-0 up. United pulled it back to 2-1, changed to 4-4-2 and have totally dominated ever since. Hernandez goes off and is replaced by Giggs. Seems a shame and he looks disappointed. He wanted to score again. Brian Kitt has a transcript of Ferguson's half time team talk: ""Alan, alan, alan, alan, alan, alan, alan" (á la Partridge when he's correcting the girl calling him Alec) ". And a horror-clearance from De Gea almost lets Braga in there. It's a corner that is then cleared.
83 mins Van Persie hoofs over with his right foot well-placed on the corner of the box. He often goes for the straight hoof on his weaker side. He has been weirdly anonymous tonight. Not a bad performance but i just don't believe in him yet as an actual United player. It's like he's a consultant or a freelance or a hired entertainer.
87 mins Braga are having a bit of a go, Viana leading the charge. Taking Hernandez off has taken the steam out of United a bit. And Alan is off. Shame for the boy Alan that it ends like that. It was Alan Trafford for 20 minutes there in the first half. Still Braga pressing. United will be keen for this to end now.
90 mins Ze Luis almost sneaks in but he fouls Rafael and it's a free kick to United. De Gea wastes a bit of time and you sense it might all be all right now for United. Braga have turned out to be a paper tiger here to be honest, and a better team would not have allowed United to overwhelm them so easily after they changed the shape. This was a defeat that somehow didn't quite happen, but it will not always be so. David Wall has a theory: "s this season's somewhat cavalier approach by United a response to concerns about maintaining ticket sales? If nothing else, they're trying to stop people leaving early to beat the final-whistle rush, perhaps so they get an extra cup of tea and bag of crisps for the journey home."
90+3 mins FULL TIME Man Utd 3-2 Braga And that is that. United deserve great credit for the wonderful surge they produced to come from 2-0 down to win this, but really this was a very up and down affair, tactically bungled in the first half, but rescued by that familiar fighting heart. Diamonds, you would hope, are not for ever.
With that United have all but qualified from their group having played three and won three. There is a lot to be done still and Michael Carrick is not - repeat, not, a center half. But there was real verve in their attaching in the second half and Ferguson has always taken most heart from that kind of thing.
That is all from me for now. Thanks for your emails. Barney