Saturday 25 November 2017

Nani has final say in five-star show

B leverkusen 0 Man Utd 5

Nani completes Manchester United’s impressive victory with a neat finish past Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno last night
Nani completes Manchester United’s impressive victory with a neat finish past Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno last night
Manchester United manager David Moyes
David Moyes pats Wayne Rooney on the back after a good night’s work

Henry Winter

Manchester United charged irrepressibly into the last 16 of the Champions League with a spectacular victory that had their fans singing all manner of songs in praise of David Moyes. This was a fine performance by United and a truly special night for Moyes.

Who put the ball in the Germans' net? Antonio Valencia, Emir Spahic inadvertently, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Nani. The only disappointment was that Wayne Rooney did not get the goal his formidable contribution deserved. Ryan Giggs was only just behind Rooney in eye-catching influence, Phil Jones was immense in midfield while Shinji Kagawa showed his class against opponents usually so imperious at home.

Moyes admitted it was the best performance of his brief reign so far.

"I'd probably have to say it is," he said. "I hope I can continue the standards of before (under Alex Ferguson). Tonight showed that. Qualification is expected, as is to do well in the league and cups.

"(The performance) is what I've been hoping to get more often - I've not had it as as often as I'd like."

Moyes' tactics had seemed to have paid off within 30 minutes, United leading 2-0 through Valencia and Spahic's own goal. Kagawa flourished in the hole, growing with confidence. United were counter-attacking well.

Moyes's central gamble was working. He had started with only two, the energetic Jones and experienced Giggs, taking on Sami Hyypia's three of Lars Bender, Stefan Reinartz and Simon Rolfes. The United pair never looked fazed.

When Rio Ferdinand lost the ball, Giggs won it back off Son Heung-min. Jones picked off a Rolfes pass. Giggs kept dropping deep, taking the ball off his centre-halves, lifting one long ball to Patrice Evra on the left. Giggs then combined with Jones and lofted the ball right out to Chris Smalling. It was a master-class in measured redistribution.

Two days short of his 40th birthday, Giggs was one of the most athletic and influential players on the pitch. He kept the ball, kept the shape and kept United on course to the knock-out stage.

With Giggs dictating from the deep, Moyes had set United up to counter-attack quickly towards Rooney. The visitors were not short of width with Nani and Valencia, while Kagawa grasped this rare chance to prove himself in his favourite position. After an early link-up between Giggs and Jones, Kagawa neatly released Rooney behind Leverkusen's defence but the England striker was marginally offside.

Kagawa's technical merits have never been in doubt; any questions revolved more about his strength of mind and body. He was outmuscled for one aerial ball when United were under pressure yet performed an important role in United's opener and grew in confidence, running with increasing purpose.

United still had to survive a couple of anxious moments before taking that 23rd-minute lead. Spahic headed a Gonzalo Castro corner over. Then Stefan Kiessling shimmied past

Jones and Ferdinand, entering the box, before Jonny Evans intervened. It was an important interception by the centre-half.

GRACING

Moments later, United were ahead. Kagawa seemed to have lost one skirmish with Reinartz in the centre circle but then turned, stole the ball and ran upfield, rolling back the years to his time gracing Bundesliga fields. As Leverkusen tried to close him down, Kagawa cleverly transferred the ball left into the path of Giggs, who was supporting him.

On it went, a classic United counter. Rooney, again outstanding, was making good ground outside Giggs, who soon found him.

United's No 10 advanced into the box, looking for movement, noting Kagawa's run into the centre before seeing Valencia's dash to the near-post.

As the ball swept over, the Ecuadorian winger slid in, stretching out his right foot to score. After leaping up, Valencia immediately ran over to thank Rooney. In the dug-out, Moyes punched the air.

Rooney conjured up some more magic after 30 minutes. From wide on the left, he drilled a free-kick towards a mass of bodies around the penalty spot.

Smalling rose high, Spahic leapt vainfully to cut out the ball but succeeded only in diverting it into his own net.

"Eigentor," the stadium announcer intoned ruefully.

Moyes was all smiles. The pressure had been huge on him.

Earlier, the cameras picked out Alex Ferguson in the stands and then immediately zeroed in on Moyes in the dug-out. The succession was as scrutinised in Europe as in England. Yet here were United playing with intelligence and tactical discipline, timing their breaks well. Even without Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie, United were in charge.

Moyes has also benefited from the constant excellence this season of the reinvigorated Rooney, who had clearly fallen out with Ferguson. Rooney's all-round excellence was again on display.

Shortly before the end of the first half, Rooney headed a Leverkusen corner clear, raced 80 yards to support the breakaway, turned around when the momentum faded and sprinted back to cover Evra in the left-back -- all within 60 seconds.

Leverkusen, amazingly on this anaemic evidence second in the Bundesliga, briefly worried David de Gea when Reinartz hit the post. United shrugged and scored again.

Giggs ran over to take a 66th-minute corner, his every step towards the flag treated as a royal procession by the fervent visiting throng. His corner curled over, being met by Evra. Rooney collected the downward header, turning a shot against Bernd Leno. It could have been Jay Leno in goal such was the lack of protection. Evans was quickest to the loose ball, and showed all the poise of a seasoned striker in placing the ball past Leno.

United were soon as rampant as Leverkusen were ragged. From yet another attack, Jones found Kagawa, who was a player transformed from his earlier-season inhibited nature.

The Japanese international was again on the same wavelength as Rooney, playing the ball through. Rooney supplied the ball across and Smalling applied the coup de grace.

United had not finished. With two minutes remaining, Nani raced on to Giggs' pass, went wide of Leno and then flicked the ball back in from the tightest of angles.

It was a brilliant end to one of United's finest performances in Europe. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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