Wayne Rooney hat trick leads Man United in blowout win vs. Brugge

Manchester United rode a Wayne Rooney hat-trick into the Champions League group stage, overpowering Club Brugge in Belgium 4-0 to win out 7-1 on aggregate.

It was a magical Wednesday night for the England star, as Rooney’s hat-trick emphatically snapped a ten-game barren streak in front of the net that had led to vicious criticism from the English media. Ander Herrera added the final flourish to condemn the Belgians to the Europa League.

The result returns United to the Champions League after a year’s absence and will have the mandarins at Old Trafford breathing a huge sigh of relief: The Champions League this year is worth at least $31m, a considerable sum even for a club worth billions of dollars.

”It was a big disappointment last year not to challenge in (the Champions League),” Rooney said. ”It was vital we went through any way we could.”

Yet the result is not likely to end the questions that surround this team: United have been expensively rebuilt under Dutch manager Louis van Gaal yet still, remarkably, manage to look several pieces short.

Keep in mind United were widely expected to win big here; a colder eye would notice that while United can take apart a minnow led by a 30-year-old striker who hasn’t played for his country in four years, they do not look anywhere close to being back in the elite of the European game. United are grinding out results, but they remain shaky at the back and still lack power up top. If they cannot fix those ills, better teams will punish them.

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RESULTS

United have also been something of a soap-opera of late as well. Along with Rooney’s goal drought, which led to the remarkable suggestion that Maraoune Fellaini might be deployed as a striker tonight, the club has consumed by questions over transfers.

The Pedro situation was somewhat embarrassing, the Neymar scuttlebutt is ridiculous, and much attention continues to be lavished on the saga of goalkeeper David De Gea, who has yet to appear for the club this season. In agitating for a move away to Real Madrid, De Gea has been a world-class distraction for van Gaal’s team, and while the manager seems out of patience, there is little he can do other than send career backup Sergio Romero out to grind through games and gaffes alike.

That said, if anyone was worried about United coming into this game, they hadn’t seen many European games from this side. United had not lost a playoff game in 18 attempts, and held a two-goal lead from the first leg. Brugge had not even scored: the hapless Michael Carrick had gifted that precious away goal to them back at Old Trafford.

Michel Preud’homme’s side did go for it. Tom De Sutter was set up wide open on the right side in the 5th minute, only to see his shot blocked away by an alert Luke Shaw.  Herrera also got into some trouble early, collecting a card for a foul on Victor Vasquez after a flurry of pressure that saw Romero called into action.

So when Rooney finally scored in the 20th minute, the relief was tangible. Collecting a lovely reverse ball from Memphis Depay, Rooney was left with an easy chip over keeper Sinan Bolat. Depay did all the work; he threaded the ball between Dave De Fauw and Oscar Duarte after dragging Duarte 15 yards to the right, but Rooney’s reaction – he looked up and pointed to the heavens, American football-style – showed just how much the criticism had weighed upon him, though the striker wouldn’t admit it after the match. 

”To be honest, if I didn’t have a strong character, maybe it would have affected me,” Rooney said of his poor scoring form. ”I wasn’t worried. It is early days and when the chances came I took them.” (Notably, his wife, Coleen, tweeted out “Ssssshhhhh!!!” during the game.)

United did not exactly close down the match: Daley Blind nearly headed the ball into his own net in the 42 minute, and twice the United back four vanished, leaving Brugge with chances that better teams would have taken.

Embarrassingly for the Belgians, Abdoulay Diaby was able to walk in on goal, only to see Romero make a last-gasp diving save at his feet as the Malian forward dithered on the ball.

But after the break, Rooney seized the day. Depay and Herrera worked a triangle well to carve up the Brugge back line, leaving Rooney with an easy goal in the 48th to essentially ice the match.

Six minutes later, Juan Mata combined with Rooney to get the captain his hat-trick, with a tricky little through ball that left Duarte gasping, and Bolat had no chance to stop Rooney’s shot.

With the game dead, Herrera was able to get his name into the books as well. Making his first start this season and the subject of some uncomfortable questions since the arrival of Morgan Schneiderlin, Herrera seemed game to prove himself, almost to a fault. But here, in the 63rd minute, he was able to latch on to a loose ball and score with such ease it seemed as if the Belgians weren’t even on the pitch.

Brugge, to their credit, did not quit, and nearly nicked a spectacular goal back just after the hour mark when sub Tuur Dierckx latched onto a throw-in and volleyed a cracker off Romero’s crossbar with the keeper well-beat.

As the game wore down, Brugge conceded a penalty that unfortunately served to illustrate United’s thin ranks up top. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, returned to the club after his loan to Real Madrid, was given a chance from the penalty spot with ten to play after Ruud Vormer went right through Depay.

Unfortunately, Hernandez put his shot wide right of the frame. The look of disgust on van Gaal’s face following that display bodes ill for the Mexican starlet’s future with the club.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.