Manchester United’s long awaited return to European football started with a win on Tuesday night in the 1st leg of their champions league qualifier, as they beat Belgian outfit Club Brugge 3-1 at Old Trafford. New signing Memphis Depay scored a first half brace after Brugge took an early lead through a Michael Carrick own goal. Marouane Fellaini scored in the dying seconds of the match to give United a much needed two goal cushion going into the return leg next Wednesday.
It was the moment every Manchester United had been waiting for. As the two teams lined up on the pitch before the game, the champions league anthem echoed around Old Trafford and reminded everyone involved with the club what they had been missing out on. United named an unchanged team from the side that beat Aston Villa last Friday, with Adnan Januzaj keeping his place ahead of Ashley Young.
It was United who posed the first real threat of the game, when in the first minute a drilled low cross by the young Belgian narrowly evaded Wayne Rooney at the far post. Brugge were playing a high-pressing game and this nearly paid off in the third minute when a Michael Carrick back pass almost caught out Sergio Romero in goal, but the keeper just managed to scamper across his line and clear the ball up the pitch.
In the eighth minute of the game the unthinkable happened. An in-swinging free kick just outside the box found the outstretched leg of Carrick, and with the former Sampdoria keeper nowhere to be seen, the ball deflected past him and into the back of the net. The Old Trafford crowd were stunned, and Club Brugge had a vital away goal.
It took only five minutes for United to equalise. With Carrick in the thick of the action once again, his sublime ball into Memphis Depay was controlled on the chest of the Dutchman, who then coolly flicked the ball over the on-rushing defender and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom corner, far out of the reach of Brugge ‘keeper Sébastien Bruzzese.
Wayne Rooney was still struggling to show his best form, but the England striker showed glimpses of his ability and should have put United ahead. His tame overhead kick in the 25th minute was cleared off the line, and from the resultant corner he failed to meet the ball firmly at the near post with his header flashing wide of the goal.
United were ahead in the 43rd minute through Memphis Depay’s second goal in a United shirt. A delightful through ball by utility man Daley Blind after a great run from Memphis, the winger quickly cut inside, wrapped his foot around the ball and found the far top corner of the goal. A magical attempt from who promises to be a magical footballer. United went into the break in front. After a shaky start they had completely dominated the first half and were good value for their lead.
Early second half attempts from Mata and Memphis didn’t trouble Bruzzese, and in the 60th minute the Belgian side almost scored themselves. Sergio Romero failed to come out and meet a Morgan Schneiderlin back pass, resulting in the Argentine only just reaching the ball ahead of Brugge substitute Oularé. A free kick was rewarded to United after Oularé had caught Romero, but it could have been far worse and if he hesitates like that again, the outcome may not be so generous.
The 63rd minute produced undoubtedly the best move of the match. Luke Shaw gave the ball away cheaply in his own half before winning it back superbly, driving forward and exchanging passes with Juan Mata and delivering a brilliant cross into the box towards Rooney. Rooney’s exquisite touch set up Memphis Depay, but the Dutch international fired over to miss out on what would have been a well deserved hat trick.
United continued to dominate and the introduction of Javier Hernandez added more pace to the attack. Brugge were reduced to 10 men in the 80th minute when central defender Brandon Mechele was shown a second yellow card after bringing down Hernandez, and all hopes of finding an equaliser seemed to have diminished with only ten minutes remaining.
As long as the score line remained 2-1, Brugge would have been more than happy to take that result back to Belgium. Their crucial away goal meant that just a 1-0 win back at the Jan Breydel Stadium in a week’s time would have been enough to put them through to the group stage of the competition and knock out the 3-time European champions. However, United got a third and final goal in the 94th minute courtesy of Marouane Fellaini. Just as referee Deniz Aytekin looked certain to blow for full time, Memphis delivered an inch perfect cross onto the head of the big Belgian which ensured United would take a two goal lead to Brugge next week.
So on their return to the Champions League Manchester United started with a win. After conceding early on and what looked like a potential disaster, United quickly found their feet and dominated the rest of the match. Man of the match Memphis Depay has given the Old Trafford faithful something to shout about, and barring a complete catastrophe in Belgium next week, European football will be returning to Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.