Stunning Depay double and Fellaini give United upper hand
Louis van Gaal’s side recover from early set back to take control of Club Brugge play-off
Two brilliant Memphis Depay goals helped Manchester United come from a goal down to take a 3-1 first leg lead against Club Brugge. Photograph: Reuters
It was the night Memphis Depay introduced himself properly to Old Trafford and, in the process, provided the compelling evidence that Manchester United might have found an ideal wearer of the No 7 shirt that means so much to this club. Depay showed here why the club paid £25m to make him their most expensive summer acquisition and his goals could carry great significance bearing in mind the calamitous start on their return to European football.
Depay had flickered only sporadically in his first two Premier League games but there can rarely have been a better pair of goals for a new signing to announce his presence. Those goals were vital, too, because United’s place in this season’s competition was placed in serious jeopardy by the early jolt of Michael Carrick’s own goal. Van Gaal can certainly be encouraged by the way his team responded to Carrick’s misfortune. There have been other times since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement when United might have gone into a shell after such a grievous setback and taken a while to get it out of their system. Instead, they quickly shook their heads clear and, though there are still plainly imperfections, they did at least show themselves to be a team of substance.
The equaliser arrived within six minutes and when Depay is capable of goals laced with this much excellence perhaps it does not matter so much that Wayne Rooney is still a long way below his best.
Carrick’s crossfield pass picked out Depay on the edge of the penalty area and the Dutchman brought the ball under control before flicking it over the nearest opponent, Dion Cools, in one movement. There were at least five other Brugge defenders in close proximity and perhaps the most impressive part was the way Depay never rushed his shot. He was always in control, turning inside and taking a couple of touches before he had the angle he wanted. His right-foot shot was struck with great power to pick out the bottom left-hand corner of Sébastien Bruzzese’s net.
Van Gaal has started the season with Depay operating just behind Rooney but the 21-year-old always did his best work in the Netherlands when coming in from the left flank and his second goal was another demonstration of those penetrative qualities. Again, he was on the left-hand corner of the penalty area when the ball reached him. Depay cut inside and it was a wonderfully-taken finish to score with a diagonal shot into the far corner.
In between, Depay had run clear and probably should have gone for goal rather than trying to slip the pass inside for Wayne Rooney.
Adnan Januzaj looked eager to impress, even if he let himself down with his latest attempt to deceive a referee into thinking he had been fouled inside the penalty area. Rooney’s goalbound shot was cleared off the line by Víctor Vázquez and, by half-time, there was little doubt that United fully warranted their lead.
All the same, there was always the nagging sense they might live to regret that moment, after seven minutes, when Brugge won a free-kick on the left. Vázquez turned into the penalty area but there was no obvious danger until Carrick jutted out his right leg. Carrick is usually the most elegant of players but he made a terrible hash of this attempted clearance. At the crucial moment, he seemed to be caught in two minds about whether to go for the ball or not. It was a heavy deflection that wrongfooted Sergio Romero, a goalkeeper whose positional sense and kicking ability is filling Old Trafford with pockets of apprehension.
Carrick was withdrawn at half-time and Bastian Schweinsteiger ambled on to join a United side for whom Morgan Schneiderlin had his best game yet and there was more evidence of Chris Smalling’s considerable improvement over the last six months.
Luke Shaw should be encouraged by his start to the new season and, however unorthodox it is to see Daley Bind in the centre of defence, the experiment has worked so far.
The biggest concern for Van Gaal must be that Rooney is showing only brief flashes of his old self now he has been entrusted to lead the line.
There was, however, a beautifully executed touch from Rooney to tee up Depay for a hat-trick chance in the 64th minute. It was the outstanding move of the night, reminiscent of the old United in the way they broke out of defence. Depay could not get his shot on target but it must have been encouraging for the crowd to see the kind of fluent, slick attacking football they crave.
That moment means there is still a lurking danger when the two sides renew acquaintances at the Jan Breydel Stadium next week but Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage-time header, from Depay’s cross, means van Gaal’s team should not be troubled too greatly in the city of chocolate and lace.