It is beginning to look a bit like United. They are not there yet, but Marouane Fellaini’s late, fortuitous goal gave United the two-goal lead they just about deserved to take into the second leg. Memphis Depay will rightly get all the attention after his wonder double but, more importantly, there was a bit of swagger back in the team. It has been a while.
The start couldn’t have been any worse of course. Michael Carrick managed to plonk an own goal in and give Brugge the head start they wanted. In general, I am in favour of the Belgians. They don’t take themselves too seriously, they enjoy the craic and they both appreciate and produce top quality beer. Their fans were terrific in Manchester, although there was a brief rendition of YNWA that was unnecessary.
Memphis has been guilty of trying too hard in his first two United performances but my goodness when it works, it works. His first goal included juggling and a body swerve before blasting the ball into the corner and exploding United’s anxiety.
It wasn’t just a goal, it was an expressive movement that fit perfectly with the narrative of Manchester United. Organisation be damned, this was a strike borne of pure charisma.
The second was a curler from distance that may even have been a finer finish. At this point, my companion pointed out that in Holland, Depay’s goals were great but his assists were non-existent. There has been little I have seen to make me question that assertion.
The third goal didn’t come though. Depay had two more decent chances to score and Rooney, despite improving from his Villa performance, will expect plenty of brickbats over the coming days. He was even taken off for Fellaini with the clock ticking down.
Fellaini, like fellow late substitute Javier Hernandez, must be slightly bemused to still be playing football for Manchester United at Old Trafford. At times, both have seemed to be frozen out by Louis van Gaal, yet he called on both of them in the most important game of his tenure. Fellaini’s late, late goal is probably the most important of Van Gaal’s reign.
Fellow Belgian Adnan Januzaj was also terrific and the threat he carries on the flank with either Luke Shaw overlapping on the left of Darmian on the right must be a nightmare for defenders.
Shaw gave a masterclass of strength, patience and verve at Old Trafford. It seems ridiculous to think that he won’t even reach his peak as a player for another seven years, he already looks the complete article.
This match belonged to Depay though; all of his effort has paid off, so far.
“I want to kiss him tonight,” said Louis van Gaal afterwards.
It is fair to say we are all quite pleased with him.
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