Despite losing the first-leg of their Champions League play-off round 3-1 against Manchester United, Belgian side Club Brugge certainly impressed and proved that they aren’t the mediocre opposition some Red Devils fans expected going into the second leg at the Jan Breydel Stadium, where there will undoubtedly be a hostile, cauldron-like atmosphere.
Even the most pessimistic United fan would have been surprised by the tactics adopted by Brugge coach Michel Preud’homme. The current Belgian cup holders were bold in their attacking play and weren’t afraid to commit lots of men forward in search of crucial away goals, looking particularly dangerous on the counter.
They pressed United’s back-line from the front from the first minute to the last and left both their forwards up the pitch in an attempt to expose Chris Smalling and Daley Blind even when United themselves were attacking.
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They were rewarded for their positive approach in the eighth minute when Michael Carrick diverted a Victor Vazquez free-kick into his own net. United were opened up on multiple occasions in the first half especially in the wide areas, without conceding too many clear-cut opportunities and the Belgian team also visibly tried to prevent Luke Shaw from venturing forward by pinning two players onto him at times during the match.
Their relentless pressing created a nervy moment for United supporters when keeper Sergio Romero failed to react to a Morgan Schneiderlin back pass mid-way through the second half and nearly conceded as a result.
Vazquez showed some good touches and excellent vision in the first half but the current Belgian Players’ Player of the Year couldn’t find his passing range during the second period and was replaced in the 78th minute.
Both centre-backs Oscar Duarte and Brandon Mechele showed good concentration levels despite the likes of Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj floating around the pitch before Mechele lost his head and his awareness to pick up two cheap yellow cards and receive his marching orders with the score at 2-1.
38-year-old Timmy Simons, who has managed to maintain incredible fitness levels throughout his career, has captained at every club he’s played for and the defensive midfielder showed his experience before being substituted late in the first half through injury and now faces a battle to be fit for Wednesday’s return leg.
THE SECOND LEG
With the current 3-1 scoreline, Preud’homme conceded that it will be very difficult for his side to overturn the two-goal deficit and admitted that Marouane Fellaini, who played under Preud’homme when Standard Liege won the 2007/08 Belgian League, delivered a hammer blow to Brugge’s chances.
However one can expect Brugge to go for it next week as they have nothing to lose, and with the tickets for the game next Wednesday already sold out, Louis van Gaal and his men cannot afford to take the second leg lightly by any means in what will be an intimidating atmosphere. Club Brugge have a 100% record at home so far this season and will still have hopes of causing a major upset.