As one of the favourites to win the Champions League outright, you would expect Manchester United to win at a canter at home against Braga on Tuesday, the Portuguese side who finished third in their league last year.
However, after 20 minutes, two goals from Brazilian journeyman Alan saw the underdogs go 2-0 up in front of a stunned crowd at Old Trafford. The Reds, though, eventually managed to win 3-2 thanks to a brace from Javier Hernandez and an equaliser from Jonny Evans.
Statistically, things look good for United, as they currently top Group H with three wins from three games. But United’s performance against the plucky underdogs of Braga suggests that if they are to lift the big prize at Wembley come the end of May, they have to improve greatly.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men struggled to cope with Braga, while their 2-1 victory in Romania against CFR Cluj had more than an element of luck about it.
The main problem for United this season seems to be defending.
Not helped by injuries to the likes of Rio Ferdinand and NemanjaVidic, conceding goals against inferior teams has been a big problem for them both in the league and in Europe.
Although they have an array of attacking talent of their disposal, the fact is that they’ve been hurt by the absence of more experienced defenders and a new diamond formation trialled by Ferguson that has seen them perform below their best in a number of games this season.
Compared to last season’s disastrous Champions League campaign, this year’s has been a success so far, as United are only a win away from securing qualification to the knockout stages.
However, with key games coming up in the league and Capital One Cup against Chelsea in the next few days, they have to sharpen up significantly if they’re to take anything away from their big-spending title rivals.
The Premier League game in particular carries huge importance, as Chelsea have a four-point lead at the top of the table, and defeat could be disastrous.
Chelsea will go into Sunday’s game as marginal favourites, although they come into the game on the back of a disappointing 2-1 defeat in Europe against Shakhtar Donetsk. You will get good odds with football at Ladbrokes if you believe the Reds will win, although a draw might be acceptable for Sir Alex.
If United are to walk away from Stamford Bridge with a victory, they will have to tighten up at the back, but failure to stop past mistakes will cost them