Manchester United turn their attention to the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday night when they host Portuguese side SC Braga. My guess is that it's safe to assume most of the readers here probably are not too familiar with the upcoming opponent. Have no fear -- here's an introduction to the Arsenalistas.
Jose Peseiro is in his first year as manager of Braga. In the past few years, the team could be pragmatic when it was deemed necessary and they've had success on the counterattack. Peseiro though, is a staunch advocate of possession based football and he always instructs his sides to attack in his proactive 4-2-3-1 system. In Matchday one versus Romanian side CFR Cluj, despite losing 0-2 at home, Braga had an incredible 38 attempts at goal and ten of those were on target. In addition, they had 71% of the possession and a passing accuracy of 89%. Against Galatasaray in Matchday two, they struggled to keep the ball but they did emerge victorious in Turkey by a 2-0 scoreline. In qualifying for the group-stage, Braga dominated possession versus Serie A side Udinese and they impressively had 45 combined attempts in that two-legged tie.
There's nothing particularly unique about Peseiro's attacking 4-2-3-1 system. In the double pivot, one player is tasked as the ball-winner while the other is the deep-lying playmaker. In the attacking midfield band, the players are mobile and technical and they're willing to interchange as well. The full-backs are asked to surge forward and join the attack.
Peseiro prefers a short-passing game and building up attacks from the back. His center-backs, Paolo Vinicius and Douglao, are decent-enough on the ball. The latter appears to be a threat on set-pieces as he's already bagged two goals this season in five Portuguese Liga appearances. Out wide, both full-backs are encouraged to motor forward and it's left-back Ismaily that is recognized as the bigger threat. The left-sided attacking-midfielder, whoever it is for Braga, tends to drift inside and it's the pacey left-back that is tasked to surge forward and provide width on the left flank. His danger is exemplified by his cracking long-distance strike versus Udinese in the first-leg of their tie.
In the double-pivot, Custodio (which is a tremendous name for a holding-midfielder) is tasked as the enforcer and to keep the midfield shape sound. When the full-backs get forward, the Portuguese ball-winner is responsible for providing cover and breaking up counterattacks. He's an aerial threat as well on set-pieces. His partner, Hugo Viana, is the deep-lying playmaker and he's the one who pulls the strings. His passing range can be impressive at times as he's capable of launching long-balls (9.5 successful long balls from the first two matchdays this European season) in order to quickly ignite an attack.
In the attacking midfield band, the trio is likely to be Alan, Ruben Micael, and Mossero -- but Ruben Amorin is in contention as well. Alan, the Braga captain, will probably be the right-sided player and the industrious attacker is perfectly comfortable getting to the byline to send in a cross or cutting inside into the space between the opposition's midfield and defensive lines. He has created seven chances in Braga's first two UCL matches and he's successfully sent in three crosses from nine attempts. Micael is a playmaker and he can be tasked in the No.10 role or out wide. He incredibly created nine chances versus Cluj. In that match, the Portuguese attacker was nominally the wide left player but he frequently came inside and interchanged with Mossero. Both of these players are strong technically, creative, strong in distribution, and good in tight spaces. If Amorin starts, it'll probably be from a wide left role and he'll provide a bit more width than Micael would.
Up front, Braga lost the prolific Lima to Benfica on the last day of the most recent transfer window. His twenty league goals might be difficult to replace. His replacement is 24-year-old Eder and he's been able to supply four goals from four league appearances. He's yet to score yet this UCL campaign though and he was wasteful against Cluj and Galatasaray. Generally though, his movement is good and he'll look to run the channels.
Overall, Braga appear to be a decent team and one that United cannot take lightly. If Sir Alex Ferguson's side gives a complacent performance, the Portuguese side is more than capable of carving up the recently vulnerable Red Devil's defense. The midfield battle will be key as both sides will likely be battling to be one that controls the match and to be the proactive side. This could possibly result in a very open game. If United decide to play in a midfield diamond in order to solidify the midfield, then the danger would be the acres of space given to left-back Ismaily and he is capable of being a source of continual chances created.