On Tuesday, Manchester United host Portuguese side SC Braga for a European tie at the 'Theatre of Dreams.' The Red Devils currently top Group H in this season's UEFA Champions League with six points from their initial two matches. Braga and Romanian club CFR Cluj are level on points with three while Turkish side Galatasaray have yet to earn any points. No Portuguese club has ever come to Old Trafford and left with a victory scalp.
Form Guide: In the Premier League, United currently sit second in the table with eighteen points from eight matches. They trail Chelsea by four points. Their most recent match came last weekend when they defeated Stoke City at Old Trafford by a 4-2 scoreline. In European competition, Galatasaray was defeated 1-0 at home while the Red Devils also defeated Cluj 2-1 in Romania.
Team News: Central-defenders Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones are all unavailable. In addition, manager Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed that defenders Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra will be rested for this match. (Full Team News Report)
Form Guide: Braga currently sit third in the Portuguese Liga table with eleven points from six league matches.They haven't played a league match since the most recent international break but they did play a Taca de Portugal (Portugal's domestic cup competition) tie on Friday -- they advanced in the competition with a 3-0 victory over Leixoes. On Matchday one of Champions League group-stage action, the Arsenalistas were defeated 0-2 at home by Cluj. On Matchday two in Turkey, they defeated Galatasaray 2-0.
Team News: No reported injuries.
United: In goal, David de Gea is probable but Anders Lindegaard is possible. With Ferdinand out, either midfielder Michael Carrick or youngster Scott Wootton will partner Jonny Evans in central-defense. Alexander Buttner will deputise for Evra at left-back while Rafael is expected at right-back.
The shape of the midfield and attack is dependent on whether manager Sir Alex Ferguson decides to opt for a midfield diamond or not. Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley, and Anderson were all rested versus Stoke City last weekend and they're certainly in contention to start in central-midfield. Despite starting versus Stoke, Carrick and Paul Scholes are possible too. If it's a diamond that is used, then either Shinji Kagawa or Wayne Rooney would be the playmaker at it's tip.
If wingers are used, then Nani and Antonio Valencia are possible on the right flank while Ashley Young, Ryan Giggs, and Nani would be contenders on the left. Kagawa, Rooney, and Welbeck would be dark-horse candidates out to the left as well. Up front, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) are most likely to be considered while Rooney and Welbeck are possible too.
When considering that the biggest concerns with Braga might be their attacking-midfielders and their full-backs surging forward -- more specifically, Ismaily -- Ferguson may opt for a hybrid diamond/traditional 4-3-3 shape (Braga Scouting Report). That's a guess obviously and by this I mean that a wide player might used on the the right in attack in order to have adequate cover versus Ismaily while a player such as Kagawa could be used at the tip of a midfield diamond in a free role -- this would essentially congest the midfield while daring Braga's right-back, Leandro Salino, to have an influence.
Braga: For Braga manager Jose Peseiro, there are few selection choice dilemmas for his attacking 4-2-3-1 system. Beto is his No.1 while Douglao and Paolo Vinicius are the expected center-back pairing. The marauding full-backs will be Ismaily on the left and Salino on the right.
In midfield, Custodio is the ball-winner in the double-pivot while Hugo Viana is the deep-lying playmaker. In the attacking midfield band, the trio of Alan, Ruben Micael, and Mossero are anticipated but Ruben Amorin is in contention as well. Eder will be the lead striker.
* What shape will United be deployed in?: In Ferguson's pre-match press conference, he discussed how he has options with his wingers but that he also has options with midfielders:
"We've got Ashley Young back and he'll be involved tomorrow. We've got Nani, Valencia, Giggs... plenty of wide players. Of course, we also have plenty of central midfield players. So I have an issue in terms of picking the team. Hopefully I get it right. Shinji Kagawa didn't play on Saturday so he can prepare for tomorrow."
Will the gaffer opt for a midfield diamond, which doesn't use wingers, or will he decide on a system that is more familiar to United -- such as a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 or even a 4-3-3 -- and make use of Young, Nani, and Valencia out wide? Or might he use some sort of hybrid diamond/4-3-3 shape in order to account for Braga's attacking threat from left-back Ismaily?
The midfield battle will be key and if United don't show Braga enough respect in this regard, they could be overrun. Peseiro always takes a proactive approach and he will fight for control in the center of the park. It may be wise for Ferguson to use a holding-player such as Fletcher so that he has someone patrolling the space between the lines -- the space where Braga's creative attacking-midfielders will be buzzing in. If United are deployed in a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 shape, there is a real possibility the Red Devils will be overrun.
* United need to track Braga's full-backs -- specifically Ismaily: If a true diamond system is deployed, then Braga's full-backs will have acres of space to get forward into and this is something they will surely salivate over. In the recent league tie versus Newcastle, Ferguson had to make an adjustment because left-back Shane Ferguson was causing all sorts of problems when he surged forward. The change was from a midfield diamond to a more traditional 4-3-3 shape -- Valencia was substituted on as a right-winger so he could track Ferguson. If United start in their diamond system, then it will be a dangerous invitation for Ismaily to get forward and he likely can cause more damage that Newcastle's Ferguson did.
*Custodio: A key player for Braga is their holding-midfielder Custodio (appropriately named). Poseiro is very attack-minded and it's Custodio that is tasked to be his midfield battler and be the one that breaks up the opposition's attacks. Versus United, he likely will have two important responsibilities: (1) to track United's playmaker -- likely to be Kagawa -- and (2) to provide cover against counterattacks when Braga's full-backs motor forward into the attack. Kagawa is clever with his movement and he likes to get in behind the holding-midfielder that is tracking him. Tracking this movement, and also having to cover such a large horizontal space for his full-backs, might be a difficult task for Custodio. How well he handles these responsibilities will be key for Braga's defense in this game.
KO: 7:45pm BST, 2:45pm EST | Old Trafford
Live TV: ITV 1 (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.A.)
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)
Odds: Manchester United 3/10, Draw 17/4, Braga 9/1