Sir Alex eyes top spot
Sir Alex Ferguson has called on his players to finish the job and qualify as winners of their Champions League group after an ideal start to the campaign.
United have taken maximum points from the first three games in Group H – an improvement on last season, when the Reds had only mustered five points at the equivalent stage and ended up paying the price.
The first target is victory over Braga in Portugal on Wednesday and with it progression to the knockout stages – sounds like an ideal anniversary present for Sir Alex, who marks 26 years as Reds manager today (Tuesday).
“Yes, it would be a nice one,” agreed the manager, when speaking to Inside United. “And with nine points from the first three games we really should be kicking on and make sure we confirm the number one spot. That’s the important thing. It’s always good to win your group.”
Sir Alex attributes United’s better results in Europe to selecting more experienced players in his sides this time round.
“After the experience of last season, we’re showing that we’re paying more attention to team selection in the sense that we’ve used a big proportion of experienced players,” he said.
“The front players in our home game against Braga would be a handful for any team – van Persie, Chicharito and Rooney. Having a goal threat like that gives you a backbone.”
That experience helped United come from behind to beat Braga a fortnight ago after the visitors had shocked Old Trafford by racing into a 2-0 lead – at a time when going behind was becoming a worrying trend for the Reds.
“It wasn’t down to an individual player or a system, it’s just that we were taking too long to get our feet into the game,” Sir Alex asserted.
“Braga attacked us straight from the kick-off and got a throw-in right away, right on the edge of the box. Maybe that created a bit of anxiety among the players, making them think, ‘Oh no, we can’t afford to lose an early goal here.’ But we did, we lost two early goals and Braga weren’t in a hurry at 2-0 up. Against our diamond, it was easy for them to get the ball out to the wide positions and control the game that way.
“We actually played some good stuff and we made some good chances. There were some really good bits of football. But we had to get in at half-time and still be in the game. So I put Tom Cleverley a wee bit to the right and Wayne Rooney to the left, and we got the goal.
“In the second half we had to kill off Braga’s width so they couldn’t get out. Nani came on on the right and Rooney played on the left so we were blocking off their avenues and forcing them to play through the middle of the pitch. We really did play really well in the second half. In general it was a good attacking performance and we played some really good football in the game.”