Manchester United vs. Braga: Score, Analysis and Grades
It wasn't exactly pretty, but Manchester United, fueled by some late goals, escaped Portugal with a 3-1 win over Braga on Wednesday night.
After beginning Group H with three straight victories, including a similar 3-2 comeback thriller against Braga the first time around, the Red Devils established supremacy atop the 2012 UEFA Champions League First Phase table.
This result, which pushed them up to 12 points, completely cemented that fact. United increased its incredibly solid lead while Os Arcebispos dropped to last place, a point behind Galatasaray and CFR Cluj-Napoca, which now both have four points.
United can now play blindfolded in the last two matches if it wants to, and it will still win the group.
Still, though, the Red Devils' performance, which was so lackluster the lights had to be cut for a moment (seriously, there was a 15-minute delay after the power went out), couldn't have been fun to watch for Mancunians.
Sir Alex Ferguson's squad controlled possession for most of the match. In the end, the final number was 60-40 in favor of United, but the discrepancy was even larger at some points.
Nonetheless, as always with this often unforgiving sport, that doesn't quite tell the entire story.
For the most part, when United had the ball at its feet, it was comfortable just knocking it around in the midfield. The Red Devils got a little more aggressive when Robin van Persie came on in the 64th minute, but they never looked overly confident.
Braga, meanwhile, looked much more interested in attacking goal. Jose Peseiro's club, despite controlling less than 40 percent of possession, created a slew of intriguing chances in the first half.
It was to no avail in the first 45 minutes, but the Portuguese side looked far more lively, and it paid off in the 49th minute. After a nice touch by Custodio in United's box, defender Jonathan Evans was too slow to react and smashed into the midfielder.
How would you grade Manchester United's win?
A penalty was awarded and Alan slotted it away perfectly: 1-0, Braga.
But United, as elite teams tend to do, refused to go away despite the fact that a loss wouldn't have been the end of the world.
In the 80th minute, Van Persie received a brilliant long through ball on a counter attack, and the Braga goalkeeper judged the pass miserably. Beto got caught in between the ball and the goal, and the Dutch striker was given a free net.
He still had to lob it over Beto while off-balance from outside the box, and it was truly a brilliant finish, but it was also a major gift from the keeper.
A Wayne Rooney penalty four minutes later and a Javier Hernandez 90th-minute goal after another Braga defensive mishap in the box made the final score 3-1.
Hey, a win is a win, right?
Beto, GK, Braga: D
There was nothing he could have done on Wayne Rooney's clinical penalty, and his defenders left him out to dry on Chicharito's goal, but who knows how the game would have played out if the Red Devils' first goal hadn't happened?
Beto's terrible error completely changed the game for the worse for the Portuguese squad.
Alan, M, Braga: B+
Not only did he strike the penalty about as well as possible, but Alan was involved in most of Braga's promising attacks.
The Brazilian, who scored both Braga goals last month against United, continues to give the European squad nightmares.
Robin van Persie, F, Manchester United: A
The Dutchman only played for about 25 minutes, but he made as big of an impact as possible during that time.
Yes, he has Beto to thank for his goal, but it was still an incredibly difficult finish. Throw in the fact that the Devils became more aggressive as soon as he came on the pitch, and the top-notch grade is deserved.
Danny Welbeck, M, Manchester United: C+
The man who was replaced by Van Persie struggled to make an impact on Wednesday.
Welbeck is clearly more valuable displaying his amazing on-ball skills while attacking goal, but he was forced to drop back in defense more than usual in this one. Part of it wasn't his fault, but he really failed to establish himself in this match.
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