United’s opening Champions League game of the season was prepared for by many fans by donning the Fellaini wigs to keep heads warm in the chilly September air. David Moyes hoped to get off to a winning start and sent his team out with our new signing in the heart of midfield with Michael Carrick. Many fans will have also been thrilled to see Shinji Kagawa’s name in the starting XI.
The game started slowly with United looking decent and Leverkusen keeping it tight in the opening 10 minutes. There wasn’t many chances to speak of, and both teams were scrappy in posession and failing to break eachother down. A half chance came from an RVP free kick, whipped into the area and headed high and just over by Smalling.
This spurred United into life and a goal came within a couple of minutes after. Dazzling feet from RVP left the Leverkusen defenders scrambling. Evra collected the ball and crossed for the waiting Wayne Rooney who volleyed into floor and past the keeper. 199 for the club, could he join the 200 club tonight? The Leverkusen players were incensed at the fourth official on the goal line. They wanted a foul given for Valencia on the goal line in front of the keeper, they may have had a case. He was in an offside position and definitely hampered the keeper.
It was a joy to see Shinji Kagawa back playing for United. He was at the heart of the action and showed his brilliant technique we had missed with a cheeky 360 on the ball to lose two players. Leverkusen had their best spell of the game in the next 10 minutes with a few shots from distance but some good defending by Smalling stopped them from scoring.
United started the second half much like the first playing some great flowing football. One dodgy header by Ferdinand gave Leverkusen a decent opening but the shot went straight at De Gea. United’s first opening came from nowehere as the Leverkusen defender slipped unopposed and lost the ball with Rooney bearing down. Maybe he had already scored the 200th goal in his mind as somehow Rooney managed to waste the chance. He rounded the keeper and instead of squaring to RVP for a tap in to an empty net he tried to find the corner from a tight angle, missing the target all together. This glaring miss would come back to haunt United, within a minute Leverkusen equalised as the captain Simon Rolfes curled a shot that took an unfortunate deflection off Michael Carrick, leaving De Gea with no chance.
United responded within 5 minutes. Valencia looked like the man we signed all those years ago, what does that #7 shirt do to players?! A great change of pace down the wing gave him space to cross for RVP, the flying dutchman lived up to his name with a bicycle kick on his weaker side. The direction on the shot wasn’t the best but the keeper flapped at it and couldn’t keep out the powerful shot. Back in the lead United began to go into cruise control and were nearly caught dawdling on the ball a few times. Rooney took it upon himself to put the game to bed. Some fantastic distribution by De Gea with a route one ball down the field left the Leverkusen defenders challenging each other for the ball. Rooney’s first touch to take it in his stride was sublime and he composed himself to slot past the keeper and join the 200 club.
United began to purr in the last 10 minutes and the 4th goal reminded me of the days when Ronaldo and Rooney used to counter punch teams leaving them in a daze. RVP showed a brilliant piece of footwork to get the ball out of his feet and through a gap to Ashley Young. With United players streaming forward Rooney took his time to play his pass to perfection for Valencia to smash a first time shot in the bottom corner. The Ecuadorian international showed a rare release of emotion with his celebration, partly to do with it being dedicated to the late Christian Benitez and also the fact Valencia was back. I cant remember him playing this well for nearly two seasons.
United were sloppy at the end and conceded a late goal to take some gloss off the scoreline. Firstly Rio Ferdinand and De Gea didn’t communicate and the centre back headed the ball out for a corner when unchallenged in the box. From the resulting corner De Gea rushed off his line to clear the ball but missed completely. This left the United defenders scrambling to clear but they couldn’t get the ball away. Toprak poked the ball in for a consolation in what was a historic night for United.
This was a great performance against a team who only finished 1 point behind Dortumund last season. Valencia and Rooney ran the show with good performances from all.