Manchester United performed magnificently in the second leg of the Champions League Qualifiers against Club Brugge. Wayne Rooney, the captain, led the way with a hat trick, finding the net for the first time this campaign. The match was a prime exhibition of the attacking quality that United can display in the Louis Van Gaal system.
Van Gaal chose to rotate the squad ahead of the weekend's away match against Swansea. Romero remained the United back stop with Van Gaal's choice back four of Darmian, Smalling, Blind, and Shaw just ahead in defense. Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick started as central defensive midfielders, Herrera's first action this campaign. Memphis started at left midfielder, Adnan Januzaj at central attacking midfielder, and Juan Mata at right. Wayne Rooney again maintained his role as lone striker.
United established their dominance early in the game, a continuation of their performance in the first leg. Potent passing moves led to near chances until their breakthrough in the 20th minute of the match. Memphis dribbled down the left flank, then cut to his right to dribble across the grain of the defense. With a subtle pass, he played Wayne Rooney through on goal, one on one with the Brugge goalkeeper. Rooney finished the move with fancy flick, chipping the ball over the sliding goalkeeper to make the game's breakthrough. United 1:Brugge 0.
In the 35th minute, an interception in midfield led to a chance for Memphis. Luke Shaw played Memphis with a headed pass that committed the Brugge defender to an unsuccessful tackle. Memphis sprung into attack on a one on one break with the goalie with a defender closing him down. The defender was able to tackle back into time to block Memphis' curled shot attempt on net for a corner kick.
United's defense was exposed shortly before the end of the first half by a threaded through ball that found a Brugge attacker, who beat the offside trap wonderfully. The attacker failed to take the chance well, however, allowing Romero to stop the movement, preventing the attempt on goal and stymieing the offense until the defense tackled back.
At halftime, Januzaj exited the game for Bastian Schweinsteiger. Schweinsteiger set up shop in central defensive midfield alongside Carrick and Ander Herrera adopted the #10 role. In the second half, United returned to the driver's seat, pushing the attack and exuding confidence in defense. In the 49th minute, they advantaged their hold of possession for their second goal. Memphis played Herrera through into the box with two options, first, attempt a shot on goal himself, and second, pass the ball to a wide-open Rooney. The Spaniard selflessly elected the second option and played Rooney the ball, which he tapped into the gaping net for his second goal. United 2:Brugge 0.
Just eight minutes later, Mata would get involved in the action, dribbling the soft Brugge defense and slipping a through ball pass to Rooney. Rooney's finishing prowess was on display as he chose to hit this attempt with pace to slide it past the keeper. United 3:Brugge 0.
After the Brugge restart, barely a minute elapsed before Rooney found himself with another breakaway on goal. He would be denied his fourth goal, as the keeper bested his chip attempt at the right post.
United's fourth goal came from Herrera, as he beat the offside trap latching onto a Michael Carrick 30 yard through ball that wrong footed a Brugge defender. Herrera's finish was a slotted shot, taken early outside the box, into the left side netting. United 4:Brugge 0. Herrera was substituted for Chicharito soon after, as he was also carrying a yellow card from a challenge early in the match.
Chicharito had a performance he would rather forget, as it started with a free header from around the penalty spot that he sent soaring over the cross bar. In the 81st minute, United earned a penalty kick via a handball on Brugge's attempted header clearance. Chicharito strode to the penalty spot to take the penalty shot, as Rooney deferred the chance to him. On his approach to strike the ball into the low-right corner, he lost his footing and slid, striking the ball narrowly wide, prompting the most dubious exchange of facial expressions between manager Louis Van Gaal and assistant manager Ryan Giggs. In all fairness, he lost his footing as he planted his left foot before striking the ball, quite possibly the worst time to do so.
Despite the blemish of Chicharito's performance, there are far more, significant positives to gather from the United performance in Bruges. Rooney converted the greater percentage of chances created for him in the match. Ander Herrera looks likely to close in on a starting role, edging out Adnan Januzaj for the first team #10 role. Memphis continued his phenomenal form in European football and United supporters can only hope he can translate his performance to the domestic competitions. Michael Carrick also proved he is match fit to perform for the full 90 minute match duration. The backline continues to impress as it tidied most of Brugge's attacking threat before it ever became menacing.
As the transfer window's close approaches, the David De Gea saga appears at an end as well. United and Real Madrid are closer to an agreement on the transfer fee that would see the Spanish goalkeeper leave the squad. Whether United close in on any other deals remains to be seen as well. After losing out on Pedro to rival Chelsea, United would be wise to grab an additional striker before the window closes. Reports and rumors suggest that United will make one final bid attempt on Gareth Bale, despite Madrid's repeated insinuation that the Welshman is not for sale. Stay tuned for news as the window closes August 31st.
United's successful qualification for Champions League is a tremendous accolade for the Van Gaal tenure. They were selected in Group B in the UEFA Champions League Draw on Thursday together with Russian club CKSA Moscow, German club VFL Wolfsburg, and Dutch club PSV Eindhoven. The group will certainly provide drama, as Memphis will return to play his former club PSV for the away round robin fixture. Wolfsburg will provide a challenge, especially if they manage to keep their star Belgian midfielder, Kevin De Bruyne, who has been linked with a transfer to Manchester City. Moscow's Seydou Doumbia can also be a menace for defenses with his tremendous pace. Look forward to the opening fixtures of group play in October.
The Red Devils return to Barclays Premiership play this weekend, facing Swansea City on Sunday at 11:00AM at the Liberty Stadium in Wales. The match will be aired on NBCSN.