Manchester United vs Club Brugge: Reds must enrich attack or miss European cash

United have produced laboured attacking displays so far this campaign

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When Manchester United last contested a Champions League qualifier back in 2005, the tie was over at the halfway stage after goals from Wayne Rooney, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo did for the Hungarian side Debrecen at Old Trafford.

On the evidence of United’s laboured attacking displays so far this campaign, Louis van Gaal’s side may have a less straightforward evening in store when they host Club Brugge on Tuesday in the first leg of a play-off for a place in the group stage.

United do not want to miss out on the riches of the Champions League for a second year running – beating Brugge alone will guarantee €14 million (£10m), while winning the competition would be worth an estimated €75m – but Van Gaal’s team have yet to demonstrate the kind of attacking fluency and intensity that routinely blew away Continental visitors to Old Trafford in the Sir Alex Ferguson years.

United made it two wins out of two with Friday night’s 1-0 victory at Aston Villa but they have managed only three shots on target in their opening two fixtures, and by Van Gaal’s admission were guilty of “too many unnecessary ball losses” at Villa Park. Adnan Januzaj offered a reminder of his potential with his winning goal and glimpses of his ability to drift away from defenders, but it was a night to forget for both Rooney and the £31m Memphis Depay, and underlined why United are pursuing the signature of Barcelona’s Pedro.


Against Brugge, United will face a team who beat Panathinaikos 4-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round and enjoyed a 15-game unbeaten run en route to the quarter-finals of last season’s Europa League, conceding only six goals.

Brugge are missing seven players through injury, yet their coach, Michel Preud’homme – who as Belgium’s goalkeeper was beaten by David Platt’s extra-time volley at Italia 90 – can call on his big target man Tom de Sutter, who has postponed a transfer to Turkish side Bursaspor to play in the tie. Brugge play a direct game, and De Sutter could help exploit Daley Blind’s lack of height in United’s central defence.

After the lukewarm response to United’s opening displays, their summer recruit Bastian Schweinsteiger spoke like a true German, pointing out that they had done the most important thing – winning. “Of course we can improve, but still we are putting chances away, especially today [at Villa],” he said. “It’s very important to control the game against Brugge. We have to score and the most important thing too is that we are like a team in defence.”

A key figure in the defensive solidity which has brought two 1-0 wins has been their other new midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin. Unlike some of the players in front of him, he barely gave a pass away at Villa Park.

Schweinsteiger himself played down Bayern coach Pep Guardiola’s claim he had not been fully fit for three years – “I won the World Cup, so you have to be fit!” – and added: “I came a little bit late to the team, and then I had a small calf injury in America. But I am getting in better shape and within one or two weeks I will be at the highest level.”