Manchester United v Club Brugge: Bruno can deliver KO blow
Manchester United and Club Brugge are still locked together after the first leg, and Kevin Hatchard thinks Bruno Fernandes can make his mark on an exciting game...
Manchester United v Club Brugge Thursday 27 February, 20:00 Live on BT Sport
Fernandes arrival has boosted Red Devils
Sometimes a big transfer can change the whole dynamic of a football club, at least in the short term. Bruno Fernandes has swept into Old Trafford, and is already emerging as one of their best players. That is no surprise to anyone who had watched his consistently dynamic performances for Sporting, or his proficient displays for Portugal.
Fernandes scored his first goal for United at the weekend, as they overcame Watford 3-0 in the Premier League. United are now unbeaten in six games in all competitions, and if they avoid defeat to Club Brugge on Thursday, they will have put together their longest unbeaten streak of the campaign.
The form at Old Trafford isn't quite so convincing, with just three wins in the last six outings. Manchester City played their crosstown rivals off the park in the League Cup, Burnley snatched maximum points in the Premier League, and Wolves held Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side to a 0-0 draw.
With the tie still in the balance after a 1-1 draw in Belgium, Solskjaer is expected to field a strong side, with Fernandes let loose in midfield. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford are still sidelined, and it remains to be seen whether "social media sensation" Odion Ighalo will make the starting XI.
Brugge have shown they can pose a threat
Club Brugge contributed to a captivating game played in difficult conditions last week. Emmanuel Bonaventure Dennis, who scored twice at Real Madrid in a 2-2 draw in the Champions League earlier this season, lobbed the Belgian league leaders in front. After Anthony Martial equalised with a fine solo goal, both teams had chances to win the game, but it ended 1-1.
The one thing we know about Philippe Clement's team is that they won't die wondering. They will take the game to United at Old Trafford, and they know that an away goal will give them a huge chance of causing an upset. They haven't lost a competitive game since mid-December, when they went down 3-1 at home to Real, and they haven't lost away from home since mid-November.
Eder Balanta is suspended, while forward Krepin Diatta is struggling with injury.
United too short to take the win
Club Brugge have already shown they can cause United problems, and this is a team that isn't used to losing. Given their struggles generally against PSG and Real Madrid in the UCL, I thought they might come up short last week, but they acquitted themselves superbly.
United have looked better with Fernandes in the side, and they have been solid of late, without being spectacular. Both the price of 1.52 for the home win and 1.20 for United in the To Qualify market seem too short to me, so I'll look elsewhere for value.
Goals appeal, especially if Brugge score
Club Brugge have shown they can make chances against this United defence, and a goal for them would open the game right up. I backed Over 2.5 Goals ahead of the first leg, and given that both goals came in the first half, and there were numerous chances for both teams, that bet should really have landed. I have no hesitation about backing that outcome again, especially at odds of 2.10.
Free-scoring Fernandes to make his mark
Given the tight nature of the tie, United can't afford to field a weakened side here, and I'd expect Bruno Fernandes to start the match. If he does, he's worth backing in the To Score market at 2.86. He scored five goals in his five appearances in the group stage for Sporting, and a lot of United's attacking play should go through him.