Twenty players are in the Manchester United traveling squad for their upcoming UEFA Champions League fixture at Braga (Match Preview). On an initial glance, the most pleasant thing to notice, perhaps, is seeing Chris Smalling on the list. The 22-year-old has missed the entire preseason tour and regular season thus far due to a broken metatarsal. This match might come too soon for him to start due to possible form and fitness issues but he will be able to provide valuable cover at both center-back and right-back. There were two slight surprise omissions from the travel squad as experienced midfielders Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher were left back in England. The former hasn't featured in over two weeks for United while the latter has been a squad player since his return from illness but not a first-choice one. In midfield, it seems likely that Anderson as manager Sir Alex Ferguson has been wanting to get him games. Alongside the Brazilian could be Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, and/or Ryan Giggs -- the manager could choose a midfield duo or a trio. Here's the full travel squad for Braga:
Goalkeeper: David de Gea, Anders Lindegaard
Defenders: Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Rafael, Patrice Evra, Alexander Buttner
Midfielders: Michael Carrick, Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs, Nick Powell
Wingers: Antonio Valencia, Nani, Ashley Young
Forwards: Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez (Chicharito), Danny Welbeck
Fergie has given a few interviews lately and they hint at what his selection choices might be. If one were to go by this Sky Sports report, then expect current first-choice duo of Rio and Evans to start as the central-defenders:
"The game in Braga will give me a chance to utilise my squad. I'll be making some changes. If we can get the win it's better, but we want to make sure we qualify first. If we do, it gives me options to utilise [Chris] Smalling and [Phil] Jones. Then we can make sure that [Rio] Ferdinand is fresh for all these games. I won't have to worry about playing him Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday. That's an important issue. I don't expect [Nemanja] Vidic to be back until Christmas so it adds back-up in that respect."
The United boss further offered these thoughts to ManUtd.com:
"My team selection for Braga will reflect the game we play afterwards, Aston Villa away, so I’ll change the squad around. Think, for example, about the midfield options I’ve got. This is an area where some people say we’re weak but I’ve got Darren Fletcher coming back from illness, Tom Cleverley developing as a player, young Nick Powell improving, Anderson back fit and looking terrific, plus Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs. I’ve got heaps of midfield options now. In the wide positions I’ve got Ashley Young fit again, Nani and Antonio Valencia. Then I’ve got the strikers. My area of worry for a long time now has been the back four. I haven’t had great options so far this season in defence. There’ll be an option with Alexander Buttner – that’s maybe the one that will definitely happen. I’ll need to see how we are in terms of a centre-back pairing for that game. But away from home in Europe you really do need a bit of experience so it’s likely that it will still be Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans. "At right-back, Rafael’s fit and his form this season has been absolutely fantastic. So I’ll probably have the same or similar back four but I’ll make changes in midfield and up front."
Keep in mind, though, in midfield, Scholes and Fletcher didn't travel and Powell started Monday for United's U-21 side. At left-back, this seems to hint that Evra could be rotated out and given a rest and that Buttner will come into the side. However, it's worth noting that the Dutchman struggled mightily in the reverse fixture versus Braga and he was substituted off in that game. It's very possible that Evra goes again tomorrow night while Buttner is given the easier game versus Aston Villa on Saturday.
So Overall, expect the current first-choice back four with the possible exception of Buttner in for Evra. In midfiield, Anderson and Carrick seem likely with Cleverley and Giggs in contention. Out wide, Nani is one of the players likely to be rotated in as might Welbeck on the left. The latter is also an option up front with Rooney and van Persie possible to be rested. The in-form Chicharito likely starts as well.