Rooney's back and Shaw's continued improvement – Five things we learned from United win in Brugge
Here is what we learned as Louis van Gaal's side cruised to an emphatic 4-0 victory in Belgium to reach the group stages.
Wayne Rooney is back- and Michael Owen is mystic
Michael Owen can now list ‘amateur mystic’ alongside ‘injury-prone England striker’ and ‘world’s most boring pundit’ on his LinkedIn profile.
That’s because, before tonight’s match, he revealed that Wayne Rooney—who he was spotted to talking with in the tunnel shortly before kick-off—was “as boisterous and hungry as ever… I really think that he is going to score tonight.”
It took the United and England captain only 19 minutes of this Champions League third round qualification match to prove BT Sport’s budding Nostradamus right. Memphis Depay cut in from the left and slipped a perfectly weighted through ball through the dissolving Brugges defence, and Rooney delicately chipped over the advancing Sinan Bolat.
He then scored two more at the beginning of the second half, to complete a morale boosting hat-trick that could not have come at a better time. Despite his protestations otherwise, Van Gaal surely knows that Marouane Fellaini is not an elite-level forward option, whereas a fit and in-form Rooney is.
The striker's hattrick saw him leapfrog players such as Matty Williams of The New Saints and Trenčín's Brazilian forward Wesley, in the Champions League qualification stages goalscorers tally. After tonight's performance, Rooney will surely be confident of challenging some rather more familiar names at the top of the charts for the rest of the competition.
Adnan Januzaj is consistently inconsistent
Once again, Januzaj was substituted by Van Gaal
Januzaj’s erratic start to this season quite neatly encapsulates his short career. After some talk that he would be allowed to leave the club on loan, Van Gaal made clear his desire to keep the young Belgian at the club, and was promptly rewarded with a goal at Aston Villa.
However, with the exception of that goal, Januzaj was largely anonymous in that game and, despite starting all three of United’s subsequent matches, he hasn’t done a whole lot since.
The fact that Van Gaal has seen fit to withdraw Januzaj from all three of these matches tells its own story, and with United’s wealth of midfield options it is unlikely the 20 year old will retain his coveted central spot in Van Gaal’s starting XI. Januzaj is a neat player, but the jury remains out whether he is a truly influential one, and playing directly alongside the exuberant Depay (who is only a year his senior) has perhaps exacerbated his lack of influence.
A loan move away from the club isn’t beyond the realms of possibility, and may well prove beneficial in the long term.
Shaw's performances have been increasing in quality
United’s strikers may have been misfiring until last night, but Luke Shaw has this season been something of an attacking revelation, pressing forward from his left back spot.
Against Brugges last week he brought the Old Trafford crowd to their feet with a barnstorming run down the right hand flank after meandering his way across the pitch, and this evening he frequently demonstrated the intent to push forward from the left. In fact, he nearly opened the scoring early on for United, when he continued his run after setting up a move out wide, only for the ball to be pinched off his toes by Sinan Bolat, fortunately alert in goal for Brugges.
Shaw running in on goal was an exciting sight for United fans, especially seeing as the left back has— somewhat incredibly for a man worth £30 million who has played nearly 100 times—never scored a goal in professional football. That duck will surely be broken very soon, with Shaw looking fit and lean, and very much in the plans of Roy Hodgson, who will name his next England squad at the beginning of next week.
Daley Blind's transformation is complete
We all know that Daley Blind is a remarkably intelligent footballer. And we all know that his passing is up there with the greats of the game. But, until very recently, we didn't know just how well Daley Blind can play at the heart of defence.
We're learning- and quickly.
It looked as though Blind was going to have a tough night at the office against Brugges. Not only was the lightweight 5' 11" Dutchman up against the gigantic striker Tom De Sutter- who played his last game for Brugges against United and is now Bursaspor bound- but Blind was also playing without the security of Morgan Schneiderlin in front of him, a defensive midfielder so good he could probably drag Harry Redknapp's wife Sandra through a half-decent game at centre back.
Any lingering doubts over Blind's suitability or physicality were quashed when, midway through the first half, he shoulder-barged De Sutter off the ball for Romero to catch a Brugges cross. United played an open game and their defence was picked apart on a couple of occasions, but Blind was solid, and his promising partnership with Smalling continued to blossom.
Brugge will do well in Europa League
Brugges showed great character upon taking the lead at Old Trafford. And they posed a threat going forward tonight, and should have equalised when the ambling Abdoulay Diaby found himself with what was, virtually, an open goal opportunity, only for Romero to recover well.
Their open style of play afforded United a number of chances on the counter-attack, and Van Gaal's team ruthlessly seized upon these, but the final scoreline was not reflective of Brugge's quality.
And their fans deserve credit, too. Once again they provoked smirks with another rousing rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone', and the Jan Breydel Stadion kept bouncing for the entire 90 minutes. There's a good chance they will be able to give their English songs another airing with Liverpool, as well as Spurs, Southampton and Celtic, all potential Europa League opponents. We're sure those sets of supporters will be keeping their fingers crossed: away days don't come much better than Brugges.
Also, special mention to the United fans who began singing 'are you Gerrard in disguise' to a hapless steward who fell over by the side of the pitch. Fine banter, that.