Manchester United vs. Braga: Picking the Ideal Reds Lineup for Champions League

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Manchester United vs. Braga: Picking the Ideal Reds Lineup for Champions League
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Ferdinand & Evra missing against Braga

The big question is, how much will Manchester United's lineup against Braga in the Champions League vary from the team that played against Stoke? Or for that matter, the one that will take the field at Chelsea on Sunday?

 

What does Sir Alex Ferguson most want to win this season?

The answer, as always, is "everything," although the EPL and ECL obviously take priority for kudos and financial reasons alone.

The starting point has to be Sir Alex's attitude to these two trophies this season.

We have speculated elsewhere that this might be his last season as manager before moving "upstairs." If that is the case, he will be desperate to win both. It would be a great swan song for Sir Alex.

But even if he isn't about to retire, he has as big and as adaptable a squad as he has had in many seasons. Just take the strikers for example.

He has already said he has his best strike force since the 1999 Treble-winning side. (Mind you he's said that before...)

People constantly bemoan the midfield department. There is a dichotomy on Michael Carrick, for example, with Sir Alex and the experts rating him and many United fans not.

United have much more flexibility in the midfield than they had for most of last season, especially with Shinji  Kagawa added to the mix. In due course, he will have younger players coming through like Jesse Lingard and Ryan Tunnicliffe. It's also clear that Wayne Rooney will be played there from time to time.

Julian Finney/Getty Images
Shinji Kagawa

There are still some challenges in defence with players coming back from injury and Patrice Evra having mixed displays. Nevertheless, it has been clear from the start of the season that Sir Alex will play strong teams until Champions League qualification is assured.

 

The Manager's Press Conference

Sir Alex was being canny as usual, but he did give some clues away. He specifically referred to the "diamond" formation and acknowledged that it is a significant departure from Manchester United's traditional way of playing with wingers.

When a journalist asked if there was an evolution in style, he said that the most important thing was the need to be unpredictable to the opposition, both tomorrow night and on Sunday against Chelsea.

This didn't just seem to be in which formation the team would adopt in each match. He specifically mentioned Kagawa and Tom Cleverley as players who can play either style.

There was concern from a foreign journalist that United might be under-estimating Braga by not playing Evra or Rio Ferdinand. Again, Sir Alex was clear that Braga were dangerous on the counter-attack, that this was increasingly common in Europe, and that he would be picking a strong team to cope.

 

The formation against Braga

There were enough hints to be clear that United would adopt a diamond formation but also that United were blessed with several wide players: Ashley Young, Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs.

It is clear that Young will be involved in the match, and Sir Alex spoke glowingly of him at last Friday's pre-Stoke press conference. At one stage, he almost said that Young was the best wide player in the country!

Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Cleverley, Rooney, Young, Kagawa

While United only have three players on the treatment table now (all centre-backs), Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are still two to three weeks away. Resting Ferdinand and Evra for Chelsea and assuming that Carrick does not play means little flexibility in defence on Tuesday.

It is clear that Kagawa and Cleverley will play, and based on the hints that were being dropped, a possible lineup tomorrow would be:

Lindegaard

Rafael, Wootton, Evans, Buttner

Fletcher

Cleverley, Anderson

Kagawa

Rooney, Van Persie

The substitutes could be:

De Gea, Keane, Giggs, Young, Powell, Nani, Chicharito

To some people, this is not the ideal lineup. Sir Alex would be taking a big gamble by leaving out Ferdinand, but he rates Scott Wootton and needs Rio fit and well for Sunday.

After Saturday's match, Alexander Buttner would not come as a surprise. Kagawa was rested because Stoke are the most physical team in the Premier League, and the Japanese player had two tough international matches the week before.

Gallo Images/Getty Images
Scott Wootton

Darren Fletcher similarly played a little short of 180 minutes for Scotland. However, that is excellent news for the player and his manager. Carrick will play against Chelsea, so Fletcher should start tomorrow at the base of the diamond.

A win in this match would put United within one point of qualification, and with one more win, you can confidently expect that Sir Alex will blood more of his younger players later to get a feel for who can make it at the highest level. 

The above team is not United's best XI, but it is one designed to get the desired result. It is flexible and adaptable, even without the substitutions. With Young and Nani coming on for Anderson and Kagawa, it can quickly become a 4-4-2.

Sir Alex is also not averse to having three or more strikers on the pitch to get a win. United are masters of the counter-attack, much more so than Braga.

 

Predicted result

Seven times this season, United have conceded the first goal. With all of the pace that there will be in the team, you can confidently expect the sort of start that shook Newcastle to the foundations. 

A possible final score is Manchester United 2, Braga 0, with Rooney and Robin van Persie scoring again.

What team would you pick and what outcome do you expect?

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