Rooney inspires United with two goals against Leverkusen

Striker grabs two as David Moyes enjoys dream Champions League debut


Manchester Utd 4 Bayer Leverkusen 2: There was a point in this match when, very briefly, it threatened to go horribly wrong for Wayne Rooney. He had just wasted the most ridiculously straightforward opportunity to play in Robin van Persie to make it 2-0 and Bayer Leverkusen had threatened to make him pay for an almost inexplicable piece of wastefulness by equalising through Simon Rolfes’s brilliant, curling shot.

Instead, it turned out to be a night of great personal satisfaction for a player whose relationship with the club’s support base is being healed with every performance. Van Persie quickly restored United’s lead and, in the 70th minute, Rooney hared away to score his second goal of the night and chalk up a milestone that at one stage not so long ago, as he tried his best to force his way out of the club, had barely seemed conceivable.

These were the 199th and 200th goals of his United career, making him the fourth player in the club’s history, behind Bobby Charlton (249), Denis Law (237) and Jack Rowley (211), to reach a double century. He had played with distinction, also setting up Antonio Valencia for United’s fourth, and David Moyes can take great encouragement from his first Champions League match as manager.

Rooney was still wearing a protective band to cover his stitched forehead but it probably summed up his endeavour that he could still be seen going up for the occasional high ball. At times over the last few months it has felt like he has wanted nothing more to do with this club.

Nobody, however, could ever doubt his application once he is wearing United’s colours. The rapprochement is still not complete but Moyes is getting the benefits from the club’s intransigent refusal to do business in the face of repeated Chelsea attempts to prize him from Old Trafford.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing for United was not actually his goal but the occasions when he had the beating of his opponents in a straight race. It was evident in the way, for example, he clipped the ball past Emir Spahic and, in the same movement, spun past the Bayer Leverkusen defender three minutes after opening the scoring.

By then, Rooney had already hurtled past Son Heung-min in another burst of acceleration on the right, forcing the midfielder to grab a handful of shirt and getting a yellow card for his troubles. Rooney’s touch and passing was a little erratic sometimes but his energy and enthusiasm made him a formidable opponent and, for all Shinji Kagawa’s refinement, it is not difficult to comprehend why Moyes goes for the man with the greater goals threat.

The goal originated on the left, Van Persie going one way, then another, before playing the ball back to Marouane Fellaini. Michael Carrick took possession and Patrice Evra was overlapping on the left as Kagawa headed on the clipped pass. Rooney was in the penalty area, loitering with intent, and drove his volley into the ground, bouncing up and beyond the goalkeeper, Bernd Leno, into the roof of the net.

United’s opponents were aggrieved because the truth is the goal should never have been allowed. An offside flag should have been raised against Evra and though the linesman could be given the benefit of the doubt for that one – the Frenchman had gone only marginally too quickly – United were fortunate in the extreme that the Slovenian officials did not penalise them for what followed.

For starters, Leno had a credible argument that he had been obstructed by the presence of Valencia on the goalline. Even if not, the winger was clearly offside and interfering with play.

Sami Hyypia’s team had coped well until that point and Old Trafford was starting to feel a little flat. Energised by the goal, United finished the half well on top and might have extended the lead through Rooney’s free-kick, and then a deflected Kagawa effort, both narrowly wide.

Yet there was something remarkable about what happened early in the second half. After 52 minutes, the centre half Ömer Toprak slipped and suddenly Rooney was clear with Van Persie alongside him. Rooney’s first mistake was to try to go round the goalkeeper rather than square the ball to his team-mate for a simple finish. But then, having pretty much eluded Leno, the most shocking part came next. Van Persie was waiting for a tap-in and Rooney’s pass – or maybe it was a shot – was horribly misdirected, straight out of play. It was an astonishing, and incongruous, piece of wastefulness.

The equaliser arrived two minutes later in the form of a peach of a shot from Rolfes, beautifully measured, starting outside the post before curling in and leaving David de Gea rooted to the spot.

Briefly, the night looked like turning sour for Rooney. Then, just before the hour, Valencia surged down the right and, though the cross was going slightly behind Van Persie, he improvised brilliantly, hooking a right-foot shot goalwards. Leno made a hash of his save and United were back in front.

Rooney’s second was a splendid right-foot finish inside Leno’s near-post but the outstanding goal of the night was probably Valencia’s, rifling in a powerful low drive after a sweeping move from end of the pitch to the other. Toprak made it 4-2 from a badly defended corner, after Stefan Reinartz’s initial header had struck the crossbar, but this was still Rooney’s night.

(Guardian Service)