“He was afraid,” said Roy Keane of one his teammates prior to the second leg of the semifinal in the 2001-02 season when United were knocked out on away by Leverkusen. “Played for his country, won championships, big star, fucking afraid of taking the big step up.”
There was no place for fear ahead of David Moyes’ first Champions League game in charge of Manchester United, certainly not in the man who, after signing for the club, stated his desire to emulate the belligerent Irishman’s achievements in a red shirt.
Having been handed his European debut, Marouane Fellaini showed just what the United midfield had been missing over the last couple of seasons – a calm, composed an efficient figure, capable to take the pressure off Michael Carrick, who must have been as relieved as a cyclists who is handed a pump after five years spent trying to complete the Tour de France with a flat tyre.
The Belgian did exactly what he was brought to Old Trafford for, providing a solid sheld in front of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, as well as looking assured in possession, but the night definitely belonged to the player who many thought would be playing Champions League football this season with a shirt of a different colour.
Like him – as the majority of Reds seem to do – or loathe him – from a personal point of view, a player who disrespects the club twice can’t be considered on the same terms as his teammates, however good he might be – Wayne Rooney is the man of the moment for Manchester United and his brace tonight will see his stock rising even higher.
Rooney opened the scoring midway through the first half as he pounced on a Patrice Evra’s cross, after Shinji Kagawa had flicked a pass from Marouane Fellaini – surprise, surprise, Michael Carrick is no longer the only midfield who can pass a ball! – although Antonio Valencia’s position almost certainly interfered with the goalkeeper, who could do nothing about Rooney’s sidefooted volley.
The United number 10 became only the fourth player in the club’s history to score 200 or more goals in a red shirt with less than 20 minutes to go as he controlled a goal-kick from David De Gea before calmly slotting the ball past the Leverkusen keeper and put United 3-1 ahead, after Leverkusen captain Simon Rolfes had brought his side level with a fine left-footed effort ten minutes into the second half.
United would have felt hard done by Leverkusen’s goal as they should have gone 2-0 up 60 seconds earlier as Rooney pounced on a defensive mistake, rounded the keeper but failed to hit the target with the goal at his mercy and Robin Van Persie unmarked in front of goal. Five minutes after the Germans’ equaliser, Van Persie restored United lead as he met Antonio Valencia’s cross with a brilliant volley, one on which Leverkusen’s keeper Bernd Leno should have done better nevertheless.
Valencia, alongside Fellaini and Rooney, was one of United’s brightest notes, as the Ecuadorian looked to be rediscovering his mojo, taking players on and delivering inviting balls in the box and the man who gave up the number 7 shirt had his moment of glory 11 minutes from time as he finished a brilliant counter attack with a thunderous shot.
Robin Van Persie’s brilliant footwork in his own half released Ashley Young – a replacement for Shinji Kagawa, who has been freed at least – who flicked the ball on to Rooney, before the England international played in Antonio Valencia who finished empathically to put United 4-1 up.
A defensive mistake off a corner allowed Omer Toprak to pull one back for Leverkusen but it was too late to spoil David Moyes’ European debut for United.
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Tags: Match Reports