Manchester United survived a scare to record a pivotal 3-2 home win over Braga in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.
The Red Devils started poorly, conceding after just 90 seconds, but then they rallied to score three goals and assure their name is at the top of Group H.
Here are six things we learnt from the clash at Old Trafford.
I’m a huge advocate of Sir Alex Ferguson’s midfield diamond, but we deduced tonight that it has its limitations with the current personnel available to the Scot.
Manchester United lack a true shuttling midfielder who has the physical and technical ability to run the channels, link the plays and force things to happen.
Therefore, they rely on Robin van Persie to make the difference when things aren't quite ticking over. He is capable of moving cleverly, scoring a goal out of nothing, or dropping in and making magic in possession.
The true test of this diamond's longevity will take place when the Dutchman is not on the pitch.
Last season’s group stage exit from the UEFA Champions League showed just how soft Manchester United were this time last year.
When the Red Devils dropped down to the UEFA Europa League, many fans thought they’d waltz to the trophy. Again, they showed their weaknesses. Ajax tested them to the limit, then Athletic Bilbao pushed them over the edge.
When Los Leones walked onto the turf at Old Trafford and completely outplayed the 19-time champions, many were simply shocked. Well, Braga did something similar this evening.
But United rallied and fought their way back into the game from a 2-0 deficit, showing calm, poise and the ability to break play up when facing a team adept at knocking it around.
What do people say about strikers who are underperforming? “They need a run of games.”
This phrase doesn’t apply to Javier Hernandez, who proves time and time again he’s leagues above the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Christian Benteke and Fernando Torres.
These players need a run of games to find their scoring touch. Hernandez could play one game a year and average one goal per game.
The Mexican has incredible skill, and even though his game time is limited in spite of his clear ability, he doesn't cause dressing room disharmony when so many others would.
Tonight proved that Michael Carrick can’t even play central defender against the evidently weaker teams.
Braga are no slouches, but Sir Alex Ferguson will have rested Rio Ferdinand on the assumption that Carrick could cope tonight.
He even said in his pre-match press conference, when quizzed on Carrick’s place at centre-half considering his struggles against Marouane Fellaini, “this isn’t an English game, this should be right up Michael’s street.”
But it wasn’t. He got schooled badly by Eder on the touchline for Alan’s second goal. United missed Ferdinand.
Manchester United have injuries and it’s forcing Sir Alex Ferguson to move his pieces around, so Tom Cleverley playing every game is understandable.
While I tend to disagree with Arsene Wenger’s grumblings regarding his little lambs being overused and becoming exhausted, I do think Cleverley needs a rest when Fergie can afford to give him one.
Continuous games are great for his development, and although the lad is 23 years young, the shift he had to put in for England in Warsaw was nothing short of exhaustive.
The best way to describe Alexander Buttner right now is “unrefined.”
After his goal scoring debut against Wigan Athletic, Manchester United fans have been dying to see more of their Dutch dynamo, and this was his second chance to impress.
He didn’t cover himself in glory early on—it’s arguable that he should have done a lot better for Alan’s opening goal after just one minute and 30 seconds.
But his positivity and willingness to take the opposing full-back on is something completely absent from Patrice Evra's game right now, and should Buttner add some neatness to his game, he could be taking up the left-back mantle sooner than Sir Alex Ferguson is anticipating.