Club Brugge v Manchester United
Thursday 20 February, 17:55
Live on BT Sport
Club Brugge can draw upon UCL performances
From the moment Club Brugge were drawn in the same Champions League group as Real Madrid and PSG, the Belgian giants were quite openly stating that they were battling Galatasaray for third place in the group. A place in the last 32 of the Europa League was what they targeted, and they achieved that aim.
Along the way, Club Brugge ruffled a few feathers. They went 2-0 up at the Bernabeu, and although they were eventually pegged back in a 2-2 draw, they showed they can do damage on the European stage. Two draws against Galatasaray ensured third spot, and with the domestic campaign going very well (they are well clear at the top of the Belgian Pro League) they can fully focus on trying to cause an upset against Manchester United.
Hans Vanaken and Ruud Vormer provide the strength and experience in midfield, Michal Krmencik has come in from Plzen to bolster the attack, and former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has immense experience.
Club Brugge have put together an unbeaten run of 12 matches in domestic football, and at home, they have won four of their last five.
Will Solskjaer continue to play the kids?
So far in the Europa League, Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has used the competition to give young players vital experience, but he has played enough established performers to get the job done. United won four of their six matches in the group stage, with a 2-1 defeat at Astana providing embarrassment but no lasting damage.
In terms of performance and results, United continue to fluctuate. They have lost to Burnley, Watford and Bournemouth, but have beaten Chelsea three times in league and cup, have overcome Spurs and become the only team this season to take Premier League points off champions-elect Liverpool. Solskjaer is trying to show that the overall direction of travel is a positive one, but to truly do that he must qualify for next season’s Champions League.
United have a chance of reaching the UCL through their Premier League placing, but winning the Europa League is an alternative route, and this tie will give us some clues regarding how United view this competition, and how seriously they will take it.
Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are still sidelined, but new midfield ace Bruno Fernandes is eligible for the competition, despite having featured earlier for Sporting. New striker Odion Ighalo is available, and could get the chance to shine.
Improving United can impose themselves
Club Brugge have shown they can compete at this level, and they are domestically dominant, but they did only take a point from their four games against Real Madrid and PSG.
United are always capable of throwing in a nightmare performance, but they have looked better since Bruno Fernandes arrived, and they will have been boosted by Monday’s win at Chelsea. The return from injury of Scott McTominay will help in the midfield battle, and the return of Eric Bailly has given Solskjaer more defensive cover.
I’ll back United Draw No Bet here at [1.82].
Goals on the cards
Over 2.5 Goals is trading at [2.18] here, and I think that’s an attractive price. Three of Club Brugge’s last four European home games have featured three goals or more, and they conceded eight goals across their home matches against PSG and Real Madrid. United have scored at least twice in seven of their last 14 away games in all competitions.