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Five things we learned from Brugge vs United

PAY-Club-Brugge-vs-Man-UnitedManchester United returned to the Champions League proper after a resounding win against Club Brugge on Wednesday night.

Much as they did after going behind in the first leg, United produced the kind of football that has so far eluded them in Europe, showing the kind of fluidity and clinical approach up-front that has too often been missed in the first three Premier League games.

Here’s five things we’ve learned from last night…

1) Ander Herrera must start 

Having been frozen out for large spells of last season before impressing when given the chance, Ander Herrera was again left watching from the sidelines earlier this season, as Louis Van Gaal struggled to find a spot for him.

Handed his first state of the season against Brugge, the Basque produced the kind of performance that has endeared him to United fans and made Van Gaal’s decision to omit him from the starting XI so often even more inexplicable.

Club-Brugge-vs-Man-United (1)

Initially deployed alongside Michael Carrick, Herrera was comfortable enough but once he was pushed further forward in the second half that he took the game by the scruff of its neck, dictating the play, splitting Brugge’s defence, setting up United’s second and scoring his side’s fourth goal.

With Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger capable to play in front of the back four with Carrick, Van Gaal can afford to deploy Herrera alongside Memphis and Juan Mata behind Wayne Rooney. United’s season could be so much better for it.

2) The real Juan

Not only did Herrera stake a claim for a spot in the starting XI, but his performance in the second half allowed Juan Mata to occupy his favourite number 10 position. Deployed as right-winger in the first 45 minutes, the former Chelsea man was allowed to drift inside, once Van Gaal replaced Adnan Januzaj and pushed Herrera forward.

Mata’s lack of pace makes him easy to be exposed when he’s asked to play out wide but once he slotted in his favourite position, he pulled the strings as he had seldom done in a red shirt. Januzaj might have scored against Villa, but he’s offered little to convince he should start ahead of Herrera and, more importantly, that he should occupy Mata’s number 10 role.

The pass for Rooney’s third goal was a sight to behold.

3) Where now for Rooney?

Wayne Rooney has attracted a lot of criticism so far this season, as he had failed to score in his four appearances up until last night, stretching his goalless run to 10 games in all competitions. Against Brugge, however, the United captain rediscovered his goalscoring form in spectacular fashion, netting his first European hat-trick since the one he scored on his debut just over 10 years ago.

Rooney’s first and third goal were well-taken finishes that exuded the confidence he seemed to have lost earlier in the season. The 30-year-old will, of course, face much sterner test than Brugge this season but Van Gaal’s perseverance with him, whether borne out of conviction or necessity, might still pay its dividends.


4) Options on the bench

Among the furore that surrounded United’s signing this summer, it has been easy to lose focus on the fact that while the new arrivals have improved the starting XI, they’ve also added some much needed depth to Van Gaal’s squad.

On Wednesday night, the United manager had the luxury of leaving a £25m signing unused on the bench and brought on a World Cup winning midfielder and United’s best outfield player of last season.

With United back in Europe – and with an hopefully long run in domestic cups – Van Gaal will need to rotate his squad to keep his men fresh and, unlike any United managers in the last five years, should have no concerns in doing so.

Club-Brugge-vs-Man-United (2)

5) Another step forward

The jury is still very much out on Louis Van Gaal’s tenure at Manchester United. The Dutchman’s detractors accuse him of forcing United to implement a style of football too rigid and not in line with the club’s tradition, while others point at the lack of return despite the £250m he’s spent on players in just over 12 months.

However, while both are valid points, Van Gaal has so far done what he was asked of him when he first took the job. He’s overhauled the squad and brought United back in the Champions League, while only the hardest of detractors would argue that the signs of improvements, small though they might be, are more and more frequent.

One feels that United’s ability to juggle European and domestic duties will go a long way in determining the outcome of the Dutchman’s spell at Old Trafford.




  1. Julian

    August 27, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Herrera should play but not has a holding midfielder or No 6 as they like to put it. He’s a far better attacking midfielder. We saw both sides of him last night and whilst the attacking part was very good the defensive one was poor. It could be a choice between him and Mata unless LvG persists with the latter starting on the right. I would give that position to Januzaj and see how he does from there. Then its a choice between Herrera and Mata for the No 10 spot.

    Hopefully this will be a confidence booster for Rooney although hitting it off against Brugge is one thing, against the bigger teams something else. Sadly Hernandez rather blew his cameo chance. But that’s the problem, it’s no good giving him bit part chances – he has to play full games to get any sort of rhythm and confidence back. He looked totally devoid of the latter last night. Where possible LvG should start with two strikers. However, with Fellaini hovering and even earmarked for the role, Hernandez might just have played his last game for the club.

    Otherwise things are looking good. There’s a lot to admire about Blind’s football. Only time will tell if he’s really going to be a consistent success at CB. Perhaps its sensible to leave him there until things blow up, at the same time hoping that they wont.

    All this assumes that nobody else is coming in what remains of the transfer window. I think that’s a pretty safe bet right now.

  2. storm

    August 27, 2015 at 11:47 am

    A good win for Utd last night, I’m glad Rooney has started scoring again. The truth is I don’t know what to make of it. Unlike LVG, who has made the claim that Utd can go on and win the EPL, I have reservations that we’ll even make it through the group phase, especially if we get an even remotely tough group. I know this sounds like a bit of a downer on Utd, but the fact is I’m really not convinced that LVG has a clue what he’s doing. I think there is a lot of potential in the Utd squad and the future looks bright, with the addition of a couple of very good players in the right positions I even think Utd could soon be challenging the top teams again, but not with van Gaal in charge. His philosophy seems to be that any player should be able to play in any position, and if not then he’s entitled to publicly criticise them and drop them, even sell them if they don’t buy into it totally, it’s senseless. The reaction from the bench when Chicarito slipped and missed the penalty was contemptible, these thing happen, but as Julian has said, it’s probably Chico’s last game for Utd. He won’t play Herrera, and when he does he plays him out of position and he struggles, then VG is forced to play him in a position that suits him and Herrera scores. Well the majority of Utd supporters could have called that one, so why not Van Gaal.I think this season could well be frustrating, I only hope Utd don’t lose players like Herrera because of it, because I have my doubts that Van Gaal will still be around next season. I know there are people out there saying that Utd are much better now than under Moyes, and yes, that’s true, but it’s taken nearly 250M to do it, and the improvement doesn’t really reflect the money spent. I hope we can at least qualify for the EPL for next season, but I think that depends more on Arsenal or Liverpool having a bad season than Utd cruising into an automatic place. I might be wrong, I hope I’m wrong, we’ll see.

    • Julian

      August 27, 2015 at 9:28 pm

      @storm: VG must know that he has to improve on last season. I reckon if he just scrapes qualification for the ECL again with no cup to show for his efforts then his job is in jeopardy. Guardiola’s contract expires next year and there must be others who would also be considered. So if LvG wants to finish his managerial career on a high at the end of the 2016/17 season he needs to be showing at least considerable progress this season

  3. colver

    August 27, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Sorry for the reality check but it was Brugges’ second team and they are Championship Level at best. Its a good confidence boost to score some goals and be given the time and space to build some fluency in our attack. Even under Moyes we smashed Bayer Leverkuson 5-0. It is quite another matter altogether to break down the well organized Premier League teams with the discipline to get men behind the ball and press hard.

    But yes Mata or Herrera are much better options than Januzaj or Depay as a number 10 and with proper service Rooney can score goals. What wasn’t mentioned is that Ashley Young has been unfairly benched in favour of Depay. He may not have the swagger but his delivery is much better and he is far less greedy and selfish.

    • Julian

      August 27, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      @colver: Brugge may be second rate but this was a pressure game nonetheless. It was a knock out with no room for error. Hopefully the manner of United’s win over the two legs and especially last night will engender confidence. Rooney will also have benefited confidence wise.

      We’ll see if there is indeed a new found confidence at Swansea on Sunday. That will no doubt be a sterner test especially as we are not always on top of it after a European week.

  4. bestie

    August 27, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    you don’t learn a single thing playing against a Championship (not Champions League) side like Brugge, let alone 5. I just hope this hat-trick does not fool management into thinking that we’re going anywhere relying solely on Rooney. As for the media vultures ripping Chicharito, who hasn’t missed a penalty or a great chance? Granted, I don’t think he’s that good either, but the question is always the same: “who else do we have”? Since last year we got rid of Welbeck, RVP, and Falcao, now everybody’s saying Chicha is next, but not a single striker has come in as a replacement. What happens when Rooney gets injured (he does) suspended (he does) or never really returns to form?

  5. storm

    August 27, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    Well, not the easiest or the toughest EPL group. Moscow will be difficult and getting Wolfsburg in pot 4 is a bit of a sting in the tail. Utd will have to be on their toes to get through to the knockout stages, but they should manage it.

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