Manchester United and Club Brugge played to a 1-1 draw in Belgium in the first leg of the clubs’ Europa League Round of 32 tie after Anthony Martial scored the equalizer in the 36th minute.
Club Brugge entered the Europa League after falling out of the Champions League group stage but not before pulling off a shock 2-2 draw Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Brugge appeared to be a strong Round of 32 opponent, but United were flying high after stealing a league win at Chelsea on Monday.
Trying to keep the squad fresh with another league match looming on the weekend, United trotted out a midfield that was more likely selected by Stephen King than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Jesse Lingard made his 200th appearance in what is now becoming a rare start for the embattled academy graduate, while the likes of Juan Mata, Nemanja Matić, and Andreas Pereira joined him.
United played a high line of three center-backs and Brugge looked to take advantage by playing direct longballs to disrupt the Reds.
The strategy worked in the 15th minute after a United corner led to a goal kick. The Reds appealed for a second corner kick, and were sluggish to get back on defense for the impending goal kick. Brugge’s keeper Simon Mignolet saw Dennis Bonaventure streaking up the center of the pitch and played the forward on directly from the goal kick. Dennis gathered the ball in the United defensive half and shook off Brandon Williams on his way to the goal. Sergio Romero came charging well off his line to disrupt Dennis, but he was quick to recognize and chipped Romero from outside the box to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
However, the lead would not last too much longer and a lapse of Brugge’s own would give United the opportunity for the equalizer. A throw-in back to a Brugge defender was too casual and Martial beat the defender to the ball. He shrugged off the tracking defender and threaded a ball past Mignolet into the net.
The 1-1 scoreline would hold into the half, and the excitement would end at roughly the same time. An uninspired second half saw the Reds sub off Martial, Pereira and Diogo Dalot for Odion Ighalo, Fred, and Bruno Fernandes respectively. Unfortunately, the make-up of the match did not change significantly and appeared to be more for keeping players fresh and less for changing the make-up of the match.
Ultimately, United at least leave Belgium with the advantage of scoring an away goal, and will return to host Brugge at Old Trafford in two weeks with, hopefully, a stronger performance.
In the meantime, United will now prepare for a league match with Watford on Sunday, Feb. 23. The Reds previously lost to the Hornets 2-0 at Vicarage Road in December. However, the additions of Fernandes and Ighalo — who played for Watford from 2014-17 — should provide a different look and possibly a different result at Old Trafford.