Thursday, 27 August 2015

UNITED CRUISE INTO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PROPER


Manchester United cruised into Pot 2 of the Champions League draw last night with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Belgian side Club Brugge in the second leg of the final qualification round. In what turned out to be one of the club's most emphatic performances away from home in the Champions League, Wayne Rooney scored a hattrick before Ander Herrera rounded off the scoring in the 63rd minute.

The Match
United kicked of with the usual desire to establish control of the match by dictating the tempo of the game at walking pace. In effect, they were passing an invitation to Club Brugge to commit in search of the unsettling first goal with a hope of hitting on the break. As it turned out, Brugge made a waste of their early chances to take the lead on the night. United were visibly lacking the defensive shield of Morgan Schneiderlin as for the first time this season, the defence looked all over the park at times. Credit though that they still managed to ride the early mini-storm and keep Sergio Romero's goal virgin.

Ander Herrera struggled in a withdrawn role in the first half and his job was not made easier with an early booking for a clumsy challenge. The uncertain start though didn't matter when in the 20th minute, Memphis Depay run at the home side's defence, feigned the eye, and poked Wayne Rooney through to end his goal drought at 10 games. The captain went on to score a hattrick in what turned out to be a comfortable 70 minutes for Manchester United.

It will not go unnoticed that United only seemed good value for a 9/10 performance when Bastian Scchweinsteiger replaced Adnan Januzaj at the break, allowing Ander Herrrera to push further up in the Number 10 position where his talents are much more useful. The diminutive Spaniard put Wayne Rooney through for an easy tap in and then rounded off the scoring by doing justice to quite sumptuous pass from Bastian Schweinsteiger. It was the kind forward run that United have lacked all season with the club currently intent on playing their way to the penalty box. Indeed, goodness knows we could have done with such a run at Old Trafford last Saturday instead of continuously seeking to break down Newcastle from within their own box. Fingers crossed he features more in Louis van Gaal's plans going forward.

And then there was Javier Hernandez! The Mexican striker was afforded a penalty to score his first goal for the club in a year but ended up doing a 'John Terry'. Louis van Gaal doesn't take penalty misses lightly, but with just Wayne Rooney ahead of him in the pecking order, we cannot read too much into the manager's poker-faced reaction with Ryan Giggs to that miss. Worringly though, the Mexican cut a disinterested figure in his cameo and contrived to miss a sitter from 6 yards out. Confidence plays a huge part in sport and suffice it is to say that Chicharito is desperately short of it.

The Sub-Plots
Adnan Januzaj has been afforded the chance to hit the ground running in what is a big season ahead of him, but his failure to build a relationship up top with Wayne Rooney could be his undoing. Indeed, the link between Memphis on the left and Rooney up top is stronger than that of his Number 10. That United improved by a country mile when the young Belgian was replaced after the break will not go unnoticed to the meticulous Louis van Gaal.

Memphis Depay looked a tad frustrated that Chicharito got the benefit of the penalty as he also searched fruitlessly for a goal but like the first leg, he played better than the weekend before. He's only 21, moving from an inferior league, but so far the pattern dictates that he has been comfortable against opposition closer to what he is used to in the Dutch league. Club Brugge are that. He'll quickly have to get his mojo running in the much tougher premier league games where so far, he's blown lukewarm.

Sergio Romero hasn't done anything spectacular in his five games for the club this season, but he seems to carry a charm about him that has somehow prevented the opposition from scoring against him. You felt his luck had finally run out when Abdoulay Diaby raced clear one on one with the Argentine but somehow he managed to put the forward off and allow United to clear. It's a little bit funny watching Romero keep clean sheet after clean sheet when the media are desperately waiting for him to drop a clanger so that they can get a new angle to a David De Gea story that is desperately growing cold. Of course Romero will one day be tested beyond his obvious limits, but for now, he's riding it pretty well. If you can't be good, be lucky!

The Bottom Line
For all the plaudits that will go the club's way following an impressive away result, it is games like Sunday when United's mettle will be severely tested. Where they will have much less space to manouvre against a better defensive unit, against a more clinical side, and against more daring opponents. If anything, last night was simply about getting the confidence ahead of sterner tests. United have now got that. Question is will they build on from here?

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