MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United may just have found a new star to fill the club’s iconic No. 7 shirt.
New signing Memphis Depay moved United closer to qualification for the lucrative Champions League group stage Tuesday, scoring a first-half double and providing an assist for Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage-time header in a 3-1 win over Bruges in the first leg of their playoff.
”I want to kiss him tonight,” United manager Louis van Gaal said of Depay.
The 21-year-old Netherlands winger joined United from PSV Eindhoven in the offseason for 25 million pounds (now $39 million), with a reputation as one of the hottest prospects in Europe. He was handed the No. 7 jersey worn by United greats George Best, David Beckham, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It’s still very early days – three competitive games, to be precise – but Depay is already fast becoming an Old Trafford favorite.
His goals, in the 13th and 43rd minutes, came after picking up the ball outside the penalty area. Depay’s whipped cross for Fellaini’s header in the fourth minute of injury time – when Bruges was down to 10 men after Brandon Mechele’s 80th-minute red card – was just as impressive and might be even more important.
Late goals were a theme of the Champions League playoffs Tuesday.
Lazio beat Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 through Keita’s 77th-minute goal, Islam Slimani struck an 82nd-minute winner for Sporting Lisbon in a 2-1 victory over CSKA Moscow, and BATE Borisov of Belarus beat Partizan Belgrade 1-0 courtesy of Mikhail Gordeichuk’s 75th-minute strike.
In the other match, FC Astana has a good chance of becoming the first Kazakh team to reach the group stage after beating APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus 1-0.
While those four matches hang in the balance heading into the second legs on Aug. 26, Bruges may struggle to recover from the goal scored by Fellaini – a Belgium international.
”If you keep 2-1, you have hope, you never know,” said Bruges coach Michel Preud’homme, who is a good friend of Fellaini’s. ”But this last goal was very bad for the confidence.”
Depay failed to shine in his first two matches for United – 1-0 wins in the Premier League against Tottenham and Aston Villa – but he made his mark on the European stage with his first goals for the 20-time English champions.
United fell behind when Michael Carrick diverted an 8th-minute free kick into his own goal but was level five minutes later. Depay collected a pass from Carrick, cut inside his marker, and drove a shot into the corner from inside the area.
His second was even better. Daley Blind’s slide-rule pass split Bruges’ defense and found Depay, who curled home a shot into the far corner from marginally further out than his first goal.
”I ended last season with a lot of goals,” Depay said. ”You come to a big club and you have to do a good job again. It is a nice feeling to score two goals at Old Trafford.”
Astana did not exist when Man United won the last of its European Cups, in 2008.
But the government-backed team, which is playing in the Champions League for the first time this season, could provide a great story line after taking the initiative in the matchup against APOEL thanks to a 14th-minute header by Baurzhan Dzholchiyev.
(This story has been corrected to show Depay’s 1st goal was from inside the area, not just outside.)