“Favourable” was the oft-used word used to describe Manchester United’s Champions League play-off draw against Club Brugge when it was made in Switzerland earlier this month, with Louis van Gaal’s side overwhelming 2/7 favourites in the Tuesday’s first leg at Old Trafford.
And while United have started the season with two solid, if unremarkable, 1-0 victories, Van Gaal and his side will do well to heed the warning offered by Ajax last month, who exited in the third qualifying round after a shock two-leg defeat to Austria’s Rapid Vienna.
It’s a timely reminder that even Europe’s biggest sides can slip up should they fail to focus on the task at hand before considering the big-money group stage of the competition.
The title of Belgian Pro League runners-up may not be the continent’s most intimidating, and Club Brugge might not possess any names that will ring many bells for fans of the Premier League.
However, in Victor Vasquez they have a Spanish midfielder who was part of Barcelona’s youth side when Van Gaal was in charge in Catalonia, and who will pose United problems at Old Trafford.
Vasquez was named Belgian Footballer of the Year last season and will be the visitors’ main creative threat, while 20-year-old Tuur Dierckx looks like being the latest in an increasing line of young Belgian forwards to make a name for himself, with two goals from three league appearances already this season. Dierckx is 20/1 to score first on Tuesday.
The Belgians lie third in their domestic table after four games. Michel Preud’homme’s side actually finished top of the Pro League’s regular season last time round, outscoring all other teams and conceding the joint-fewest goals, yet finishing runners-up through the uniqueness of the Belgian system, which hives off into a Championship playoff featuring the top six.
It means that they are more equipped than many may give them credit for to deliver an upset, with 10/1 on offer for the away win.
As for United, any advantage gained from an extra day’s rest after playing Aston Villa on Friday is somewhat negated by the fact that their opponents also enjoy a three-day break, following their 2-1 league victory over Kortrijk on Friday.
With Phil Jones still absent through injury and David de Gea not considered, United’s back four is unlikely to be chopped and changed too much, while Sergio Romero will again form the last line of defence in a bid to record a third consecutive clean sheet at 17/20.
United fans will be hoping to see a little more attacking flourish, particularly from Wayne Rooney, whose two performances back at the top of United’s attack have done little to assuage those who feel that Van Gaal needs to be more active in the transfer market before the deadline arrives.
With Rooney looking a little rusty so far, he’ll be looking to break his season duck with a goal on Tuesday night, at 3/1 to score first.
With a focus on United’s striking options, James Wilson and Javier Hernandez are likely to be given minutes to persuade their manager that he needs not invest on more incomings. As both are likely to start from the bench, the last goalscorer market is where to look for returns, with Hernandez at 9/2 and Wilson a little further out at 5/1.
Alternatively, check out this special offer from Ladbrokes:
Man United to win and both teams to score WAS 2/1 NOW 5/2!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
Fancy a flutter? Sign up today to claim up to £50 in free bets.