Friday 20 April 2018

Memphis steals the show to give United the edge

Fellaini's last-gasp header puts seal on victory

Memphis Depay reacts after missing a chance for his hat-trick during an impressive display at Old Trafford
Memphis Depay reacts after missing a chance for his hat-trick during an impressive display at Old Trafford
Victor Vazquez and Laurens De Bock celebrate after Manchester United's Michael Carrick scores an own goal
Club Brugge's Timmy Simons battles in the air for the ball with Manchester United's Luke Shaw
Club Brugge's Laurens De Bock is blocked off by Juan Mata
Manchester United's Memphis Depay celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game

Jason Burt

Manchester United 3-1 Club Brugge

Manchester United have that new hero. A new heir to fill, and feel able to wear, that legendary number seven shirt as Memphis Depay scored two stunning goals and then delivered the cross for substitute Marouane Fellaini's goal in injury-time to surely do enough to take United into the group stages of the Champions League.

It was, at times, an uncomfortable night and this tie is still alive, due to Michael Carrick's unfortunate own goal. It could have been far more embarrassing for United but for Depay's intervention. The 21-year-old £25million Dutch international should have claimed a hat-trick, he missed the easiest chance that came his way, but redeemed himself with a superb cross for Fellaini to rise and head home.

It was almost the last action of a game in which Wayne Rooney was substituted - for Fellaini - as United chased hard, and then frantically, to increase their lead. Again the captain looked unable to make the breakthrough.

There was the return of 'Zadok the Priest', with the Champions League theme music played across the Old Trafford tannoy system after what has been a painful season-long absence. There was a reassuring familiarity to it, an old favourite, for United but they had to ensure this was a regular on the play-list and not a one-hit wonder for this campaign.

"We love European nights because it's what we work for," manager Louis Van Gaal declared in his programme notes while again declaring that the "pressure" was on his team. It was - but only in terms of qualifying for the group stages. This was an opponent which, in truth, they would have hand-picked from the play-off opponents available to them.

Brugge had defeated Panathinaikos to reach this stage, they had finished second in the Belgium League, won the cup and negotiated their way deep into the Europa League but their limitations - made all the more severe through the ravages of injury - would surely be exposed.

For Van Gaal, there was the opportunity to select an unchanged team with Adnan Januzaj retaining his place and his role, behind the striker Wayne Rooney in the line-up after his match-winning contribution to the victory over Aston Villa last Friday.

Januzaj made a less positive - if inadvertent - contribution here as Brugge claimed a shock lead inside the opening 10 minutes. It came as Victor Vazquez sent in a free-kick which deflected off Januzaj and then skimmed through only for Michael Carrick to stick out a leg to divert the ball past goalkeeper Sergio Romero and into the net. It was unlucky. But it was also messy.


The strength of the selection also reflected the occasion. United can take nothing to chance and yet here they were behind. "Are you watching Anderlecht?" sang the raucous, relentless Brugge supporters in delight. It was a new chant for this stadium, for sure. (And the chances of Anderlecht's fans taking an interest were probably pretty unlikely, in truth.)

But they were then, momentarily, drowned out. With a roar of relief United drew level. It was smartly taken as Depay flicked the ball up over defender Dion Cools, from Carrick's pass, and was allowed to run into the penalty area. Cools' team-mates backed off and gave Depay the time to steer a low shot past goalkeeper Sebastien Bruzzese. It was a fine way for Depay to properly introduce himself.

United pressed on as they needed to do with the desire, and the expectation, that they could end this tie and, twice, Rooney went close. He steered an overhead kick goalwards only for the ball to be hacked away for a corner and then he reached that - but could only turn his header across the area when he should have done much better. An astute first-time pass from Juan Mata released Januzaj but he was out-muscled by Oscar Duarte as he bore down on goal.

Depay was afforded another chance but, through on goal, he elected to try and find the onrushing Januzaj rather than shoot. It proved the wrong choice especially as, soon after, Bruzzese showed his vulnerability in goal by unconvincingly dealing with a drive from distance by Depay.

It proved a sighter. Just before half-time and Depay claimed his second with another spectacular finish as he collected Daley Blind's pass, cut inside and struck a fierce, curling shot which tore past the clutches of Bruzzese.

The sense of euphoria needed to ease. United required more goals and Depay grasped that as he again cut inside before aiming for the same angle before the ball drifted wide, almost turning into a dangerous cross for Rooney.

Again Depay went close, running across the face of goal with Bruzzese turning away his low shot. Earlier the goalkeeper had denied Mata and then Rooney bore down on goal but failed to pick out the over-lapping Januzaj .

At half-time Van Gaal had made a familiar switch - albeit earlier than before - with Bastian Schweinsteiger replacing Carrick. One Champions League winner for another as Schweinsteiger continued to work his way to fitness and exert that familiar control in midfield.

United were then fortunate. Matteo Darmian's back pass ran short, Romero reacted slowly, again, and was challenged by substitute Obbi Oulare with the ball running to Vazquez. It was a chance for Brugge to draw level but Romero, cutely, stayed down and the referee Deniz Aytekin halted play.

With that warning Depay should have collected his hat-trick as he ran onto Rooney's smart flick - only to balloon his shot over with the goal beckoning. He really should have scored, he had to score, and Van Gaal was acutely aware of the need for goals as he eventually sent on Javier Hernandez to partner Rooney and beef up the attack.

United's cause was boosted when Brandon Mechele received a second yellow card, for a lunge on Hernandez, with Brugge reduced to 10-men with 10 minutes left. But United left it late to crucially add to their advantage.

And it took a Belgian to do it.

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