By Imran Kardar
European football returned to the Theatre of Dreams last night with qualifier vs Club Brugge and was Old Trafford buzzing or what?! The atmosphere was electric at the start and that Champions League anthem added to the buzz! How the fans missed that over the course of last year!
United played an unchanged team from the game vs Aston Villa on the weekend. The game started of slowly and that early buzz died down as soon as United conceded the opener, an own goal from Michael Carrick. Old Trafford went very quiet after that and one could sense the nervousness and tension in the air. But the atmosphere soon changed when Memphis, playing on the left wing, taking and lobbing a strong pass from Carrick, went past a few defenders and slotted the ball in the bottom right corner for the equalizer and his first goal for Manchester United at Old Trafford! Boy, can this kid play?! His confidence grew after the goal and you could see him regularly taking on the defenders and doing step overs.
The second half saw Bastian Schweinsteiger introduced from the start in place of Carrick. Carra didn’t have the worst of half’s but didn’t have the best either. His pass to Memphis for the goal was a killer pass, a bit heavy but Memphis controlled it well. Somehow, it seems that the midfield combination of Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin works better than that of Carra and Schneiderlin. United kept on having attempts at goal but couldn’t score until the new No.7 produced another class goal! This one got the lad excited! So 2-1 on the night and United charging towards that all important third goal and a two goal cushion for the return leg. Things were made a bit easier with a sending of for Brugges but still United couldn’t manage to take advantage and convert. Fellaini was sent on in place of Rooney in the final 10 minutes and on the stroke of full time that man again Memphis produced a quality cross in to the box which Fellaini headed in for the goal. Literally seconds from the final whistle!
So United got the all-important goal and ended the game 3-1. Let’s get on to some mentionable player performances. The United defense did a good job on the night. Darmian and Smalling starred whereas Shaw and Blind were solid. Rio Ferdinand commentating on TV said that Smalling is difficult to play against when he is in beast mode! And he was in it throughout the 90 minutes! But Man of the Match surely goes to Memphis for his two goals and one assist. He was outstanding on the night! He was given the freedom on the left wing and looked far more comfortable than as a No.10. Hope to see more similar performances in the EPL from him.
Mata was off color tonight and didn’t seem to be able to impact the game. He just didn’t manage to get in to positions in the final third where he could influence the play. Januzaj had a good, lively first half but not much to mention in the second, miss placed a few passes. Rooney had his best game of the season so far but still kept on dropping way too deep to pick up the ball. That’s his natural instinct which he will need to curb and stay up top. All in all a good performance but job half done. Need a similar performance in the return leg next week.