Sunday 18 March 2018

Moyes passes latest graduation test with flying colours

Paul Hayward

Wayne Rooney's 200th goal for Manchester United eased the team's new manager David Moyes into the wonderland of Champions League football, where he faces a test far more exotic than the quest to retain the domestic title in his first season in Alex Ferguson's old shoes.

Moyes must feel he is stuck in a loop of graduation ceremonies. First trip to Liverpool earlier this month, first Manchester derby this Sunday and Champions League Group stage debut here against a German club with fans who have clearly undergone the Bundesliga's voice projection training.

Bayer Leverkusen's small knot of followers sent sonic booms of noise across a stadium that is still in the adjustment phase, but they were silenced by a resounding victory for Moyes, with two goals from Rooney and one each for Robin van Persie and Antonio Valencia. Bayer Leverkusen are not Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund, but nor are they easy to put four goals past. This could be the performance that really sets Moyes on his way.

Remarkably, this was Manchester United's first European Cup fixture since 1969 without Alex Ferguson in charge, allowing for the long hiatus of the 1970s and 80s. Their 18th consecutive Champions League campaign opened with the audience still not clear about how the world will look under Moyes.

The new manager is sometimes accused of name checking Ferguson a bit too often – and expressing his respect too deferentially – but at the same time he has moved quickly to become the master of his own training ground.

No problem needed solving more than Wayne Rooney's semi-detachment (or more clearly, his desire to move to Chelsea). When the two sides ended up on the same ocean cruise again together – with no means of getting off – the chemistry suddenly improved, with Rooney's industrious performance in a 0-0 draw against Chelsea just before the transfer window closed pointing to a rapprochement.

Robin Van Persie scores a brilliant goal against Bayer Leverkusen last night
Robin Van Persie scores a brilliant goal against Bayer Leverkusen last night

The improvement in his sharpness, work-rate and attitude has helped Moyes greatly in his step-up from the Everton job.

In the first half here he was United's best player. This was Moyes' United in positive mode, with Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini in deep midfield, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa in the wide positions and Rooney darting about behind Robin van Persie.

The uncertainty about United's immediate prospects arises because no-one can quite imagine Moyes maintaining the Fergusonian passion and intensity so soon into the job; or playing with as much attacking verve.

European experience is built into this side, this club, as they showed with a swift reaction to Simon Rolfes' curling equaliser on 53 minutes. Eight minutes later Van Persie was hooking in United's second to restore their lead. United's followers were back on familiar ground: the response-reflex of all Ferguson's teams. United songs rippled round the ground. The pace picked up.

Moyes stood in the coaching zone in his anorak, arms folded, enjoying the moment of arrival on club football's grandest stage.

An autumn of tests for Moyes continues in noisy neighbour land on Sunday. He is scoring highly. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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