United eye group stage, top Club Brugge in Champions League playoff

BY Jonathan Wilson • August 18, 2015

MANCHESTER, England --

Goals from Memphis Depay and Marouane Fellaini were enough for Manchester United to defeat the Belgium giants Club Brugge 3-1 at Old Trafford to creep closer to the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday night.  

For a couple of games, Depay had flickered. He’d shown glimmers of his ability without ever quite catching light. Against Club Brugge, he exploded, scoring two superb goals before halftime and setting up another to turn a tie that had threatened to slip from Manchester United’s grasp back in its favor. This is why United was so keen to spend $39 million on the 21-year-old Netherlands international.

''I want to kiss him tonight,'' United manager Louis van Gaal said. ''When you score two goals and the assist also, normally in the world you are the hero.''

A third from the substitute Fellaini with what turned out to be the final touch of the game added a welcome cushion that should ensure United’s progress to thegroup stage of the Champions League.

 

''This last goal was very bad for the confidence,'' Club Brugge boss Michel Preud'homme said.

Still, it was hard to avoid the thought that although each game this season has brought greater fluency, but the forward line still lacks a little potency.

Depay’s first came after 13 minutes, and wasn’t just superbly taken but hugely important. Coming five minutes after Club Brugge had taken the lead and so settling nerves that might easily have become frayed. Brugge’s goal was farcical, but no less significant for that. Victor Vazquez’s free-kick from the left, perhaps 45 yards from goal, flicked off Adnan Januzaj with the result that when Michael Carrick, usually the most elegant of players, stretched out and ended up diverting the ball past Sergio Romero.

Carrick who was withdrawn for Bastian Schweinsteiger at halftime, had made an uncharacteristically sloppy start, putting a simple pass out of play in the first minute and then sending a nightmarish backpass to Romero. Yet Carrick was instrumental in United’s equalizer five minutes later, although not as instrumental as Depay. Receiving Carrick’s drilled pass on his chest, he flicked the ball over Dion Cools, then showed admirable patience, waiting for a gap to open up before depositing a low shot just inside the post -- his first goal for United, and the club’s first in the Champions League for 496 days.

Depay was involved in most of what was best about United as an attacking force, at least in the first half. He had a 22-yard shot deflected just wide and then, eight minutes before the break, he was laid in by Wayne Rooney only, slightly mystifyingly, to choose to square rather than shooting. Neither Adnan Januzaj nor Juan Mata, though, had got forward quickly enough to take advantage. That was a common feature: United was tidy in the build-up but struggled to get men into the box to turned a neat move into a goal.

That, you suspect, is part of the problem with playing Rooney as a center-forward: Although he insists he is looking to restrict his sphere of influence to operate more as a leader of a line, the old instincts quickly kick in and he goes roving. It was Depay’s individual brilliance that had brought the first and it was Depay’s individual brilliance that brought the second as he shimmered in from the left flank before whipping an angled shot into the corner two minutes before the break.

''He's never satisfied. I like that,'' Van Gaal said of Depay. ''You have to know what you are doing and also what you can do and then your desire to improve is higher. And that's Memphis.''

This was Depay’s European debut rather than his first game for the club. Still, the comparison with Rooney was clear enough. The striker was 18 when he returned form a broken metatarsal sustained during Euro 2004 to score a Champions League hat trick of ridiculous quality against Fenerbahce. Depay had his chances for a treble, drawing a low save from Sebastien Bruzzese and then firing over after Rooney had touched Luke Shaw’s cross into his path.

Depay wasn’t the only positive for United. Chris Smalling again excelled at the heart of a back four, which perhaps goes some way to explaining why van Gaal doesn’t seem bothered, despite all the rumors about Sergio Ramos, about bringing in another central defender. Matteo Darmian was aggressively effective and Morgan Schneiderlin looks more and more at home in front of the back four as each game goes by. Defensively, in fact, after a wobble occasioned by the freakish nature of the own-goal, the biggest threat to Romero’s goal was a back-pass; the goalkeeper hesitated before half-clearing and was fortunate to be awarded a free-kick for a supposed foul by Vazquez as he closed him down.

Brandon Mechele was set off with 10 minutes remaining, collecting a second yellow card for an ugly lunge at Mata. That tipped the momentum even more surely United’s way and, after Smalling had seen a close-range header snatched on the line by Bruzzese, Fellaini headed in a cross from Depay to all but settle the tie.

Information from the AP was used in this match report.


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