Memphis Depay scores twice against Club Brugge as Manchester United take a lead to Belgium
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How good does it feel to be back in the Champions League? In some form, anyway. They’re not there quite yet, but a dominant 3-1 victory at home to Club Brugge should make the second leg of the qualifying play-offs in Belgium a little more of a relaxed affair.
It was tense, it was intense and it was a little more difficult than it should have been. Ultimately though, it was a game in Europe on a Tuesday night and I hope you won’t begrudge me for savouring that feeling once again.
No, I’m not referring to the Chuck Berry song but the fantastic performance from one Memphis Depay. After a shaky display of confidence against Aston Villa, the Dutchman scintillated under the Manchester night sky and showed the brilliance befitting of his number 7 shirt.
– Louis van Gaal on Memphis Depay.
A goal was never going to hurt his reputation, particularly one as good as the first: a lob over one defender, running through a couple more and lacing a shot straight across the low left side of the goalkeeper. It was the second which opened some eyes though, curling a right footed shot from the edge of the penalty area and into the top corner of the net. Not since a young Wayne Rooney has someone made this kind of impact on United on a European weeknight.
His confidence, running, positioning and fearlessness in front of goal were evident all night, capped by his pinpoint cross that met the head of Marouane Fellaini for the decisive third goal in stoppage time. That kind of player is found in every big team, highlighted in recent years by the ascent of Eden Hazard at Chelsea. Finally, the reds have found the heir to the throne still cold from Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. The new king of Memphis is here at last.
This team is finally becoming something…
It’s unfair to single out one performer, though. As seen in the first two games of the Premier League season, Van Gaal has brought out workman-like performances from his team.
Every area of the pitch, with few exceptions, has strengthened from last year. The defence, largely young and semi-makeshift, has tightened up and shipped a lone goal that came from its own man. Taking out Michael Carrick’s embarrassment, the backline is solid and improving every time. Though all eyes are on Matteo Darmian for his quick transition into the English game, kudos must be given to Chris Smalling for coming into his own as the elder statesman (at only 25, too).
Further up the pitch, little pockets of partnerships are starting to form and pay dividends for the movement of play. One brilliant sequence saw Luke Shaw regain the ball, pace down the wing and cross into Wayne Rooney’s heel, brilliantly slowing the ball directly into the waiting foot of Memphis whose free shot at goal should have produced the cherry to top the most delicious of cakes. We can only forgive him for his wayward miss, given his gifts before and then afterwards.
But one more player wouldn’t go amiss.
Spare all praise, though. There are still a couple of noticeable holes across the named 18. The back four lack strength in depth and any one of them dropping with injury could be catastrophic to the steel being exhibited so far. It’s becoming clear that Sergio Ramos was playing the ‘contract game’ with Real Madrid, whilst Nicholas Otamendi seems destined for a move to the Etihad. Either way, there is still a distinct need for that Nemanja Vidic-esque character to lead the line.
All eyes though, are focused squarely at the front. Though the captain showed a lot more form and desire than in the previous two games, Rooney is still a constant liability for the team and it may be to the club’s benefit to bring someone in who can serve as a catalyst for shuffling the deck a little.
Nothing is yet completed, as it hasn’t been all pre-season, but a Pedro-shaped signing could throw all manner of cats amongst the highly paid pigeons. Memphis seems favoured behind the forward despite playing his best football to the left, so the Spaniard could force him up into the central striker position with Mata fazed back into his preferred role in the middle. Where would the skipper fall into this? The bench, most likely. At this stage though, it may just be the best place for him.
5 talking points from the game
- Who else would like to see a Schneiderlin/Schweinsteiger/Herrera trifecta start a game or 36?
- David de Ge-who? Okay, not quite. Still feels weird without Big Dave in the team.
- Lovely to see the crowd welcome Chicharito back with open arms.
- All of you who moaned about Andy Townsend for years, congratulations: we’ve now got Michael Owen. I hope you’re pleased with yourselves.
- The tie isn’t sewn up yet but an away goal will all but see United return to the group stages. But we can be confident, right?