Manchester United 3 (Hernandez, Hernandez, Evans) SC Braga 2 (Alan, Alan)
1. No defence at all. Manchester United have conceded the first goal in eight of their 12 competitive games so far in 2012-13. We might have won five of those eight but our slow starts to the season are becoming alarmingly regular.
It took less than 90 seconds for Braga to score last night with Buttner being caught napping by Alan, who nipped in front of him to plant a header past de Gea. The second goal after 20 minutes was equally as poor with Carrick marking Eder too tight before he turned him inside out, ran to the byline and cut the ball back to allow Alan a smart finish into the corner.
Once again, our attack saved the day as we ran out 3-2 winners but we have to shape up, fast. It’s not Carrick’s fault that he has to cover at centre back but the faster that Jones and Smalling return from injury the better. We need to have defensive cover – but the problem goes deeper than that.
Our woeful ability to defend crosses/free-kicks/corners are going to sting us in the tail this season unless we nip it in the bud – Stoke exposed that just this Saturday.
If we let Chelsea get an early goal this weekend, we are going to find it extremely tough to come back from it. Saying that, we managed it from 3-0 down last year but I’d rather not have a repeat of that.
2. Javier Hernandez. What an absolutely superb performance from our Mexican magician. Amidst the rise of Robin van Persie in the team alongside Sir Alex’s preference to play Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, the little pea has struggled for game time so far this season.
It wasn’t only his two excellently taken goals that impressed me but his overall game. His first touch, which is normally akin to that of a doorpost, was sublime. As well as that, his work rate was phenomenal and it is obvious how much he has worked on his strength.
He was bullying Braga defenders, winning aerial battles and my moment of the match came when he tussled with two Braga players in the midfield and, despite being grounded, leapt to his feet and sprung away into space with the ball before unleashing an outside of the foot pass through to Nani.
Sir Alex admitted that Hernandez has forced him to re-think his striking options ahead of the Chelsea game and, for me, he has played himself into the side on Sunday – especially considering his goalscoring record against Chelsea.
3. The need for tactical flexibility. Last night showed that the “diamond” formation won’t be a permanent fixture for United. Braga stacked the midfield and we found little space to pass the ball around. They were easily the better team in the first half as a consequence.
Nani came on for Kagawa at the beginning of the second half and the width gave us an instant return. Braga found themselves stretched to cover our wide players and space was opening up all over the pitch, allowing us to turn the game on its head and win the game 3-2.
Whilst the traditional 4-4-2 has hurt us when Scholes and Carrick have been overrun in the middle, we need to have the unpredictability and versatility to play more than one formation.
Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that the unpredictability we now had was a weapon, and he is right. It makes it harder for the opposition to build a game plan to stop us when we have more than one option we can use. I do think the “diamond” formation will bring out our best football this season but we just have to know when to use it.
4. The rise and rise of Jonny Evans. Compare the Evans of now to the one that played just 12 months ago – they look like different players.
Evans has matured rapidly into one our most consistent and best players. His performances so far this season have been world class at the back and alongside Rafael, they have been the only reliable performers in what is a leaky defence.
He’s even become a regular goal threat having now netted more goals already this season than he did in the entirety of last year.
All Manchester United need is someone alongside him, week in week out, and hopefully the return of Jones and Smalling to fitness will make that happen.
5. Crosses. Our last seven goals in all competitions have come from crosses. For all the fans calling out for the regular use of the “diamond” formation, myself included, it is something that has to be considered.
From whipped van Persie deliveries to sublimely curled Cleverley crosses, we have benefited massively from wide man swinging the ball in. We might not have the tallest team in the world but it seems that the quality of our balls into the box are just too good for the opposition.
You have to play to your strengths in football and if we are seeing such success from crosses, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be sending more of them in. If we can do it against Stoke, we can certainly do it against Chelsea.