MANCHESTER UNITED 4-2 BAYER LEVERKUSEN (CHAMPIONS LEAGUE)
Manchester United and David Moyes opened their Champions League account with a win over a very game Bayer Leverkusen at Old Trafford.
Moyes made 3 changes to his starting line up from the weekend win against Crystal Palace with Chris Smalling, Marouane Fellaini (starting for the first time) and Shinji Kagawa coming in for Fabio, Anderson and Ashley Young. The big news coming from the Leverkusen camp was that the highly rated Lars Bender was on the bench, deemed not fit enough to start by manager Sami Hyypia.
There was a sense of nervous anticipation amongst the United fans pre-match but they were surely encouraged by their start. They passed the ball around with a sense of urgency and didn’t allow the German visitors to settle. However, it took them 11 minutes to create a clear cut chance. New signing Fellaini played the ball into the feet of Robin van Persie around 35 yards from goal. The Dutch striker was allowed to turn by the defence and he came forward before firing a low shot just wide of Bernd Leno’s post. The Leverkusen defence got another big scare just 10 minutes later.
United won a free kick on the right and, of course, van Persie took it. His delivery was quick and in-swinging and clearly scared keeper Leno who couldn’t decide if he was coming or going. Smalling rose well above the Levekusen defenders (who had dropped really deep) but could only loop his header onto the roof of the net. Just two minutes later, United finally converted but not without some controversy.
Kagawa, back in the side to the delight of United fans, flicked the ball on with his head to an onrushing Patrice Evra down the left. The full back got to the byline and sent the perfect ball over to Wayne Rooney at the back post. The Englishman volleyed the ball into the ground and was delighted when Leno couldn’t stop from nestling in the net. There was relief all around for United but Leverkusen were furious and replays showed they had every right to be. As Rooney struck his volley, Antonio Valencia was impeding Leno on the line and in a clear offside position.
Leverkusen tightened up following the goal and managed to gain a foothold in the game. However, while both sides were playing some good, neat football, no real chances were created as defences stood firmly. That changed just before half time when Emre Can fould van Persie around 25 yards out. Rooney stepped and bent his free kick over the wall but just wide of the post before Kagawa saw a shot deflected just wide as United ended the first half on top.
Bayer were clearly up for the second half and began quickly with Sidney Sam forcing a good save from David De Gea following Rio Ferdinand’s mistake. Yet, it was still United who were in control and they were almost gifted a second goal.
Ömer Toprak slipped when trying to turn on the edge of the Leverkusen area and could only watch as Rooney gleefully took it. He rounded Leno and, instead of rolling across to van Persie for an easy tap-in, he proceeded to scuff his shot right across the face of goal and wide. It was a huge let off for Leverkusen and an incredible miss from a player of Rooney’s quality. And two minutes later, they were to regret that miss.
Sidney Sam carried the ball more than 60 yards on the break before shooting weakly into the legs of Ferdinand. The chance wasn’t gone as Sam picked out Son Heung-Min on the left. The Korean youngster cut inside and, after his shot was blocked, had the awareness to lay it off to captain Simon Rolfes on the edge of the area. The German curled in a beautiful strike and left De Gea rooted to the spot. Leverkusen were level out of nowhere but it wasn’t for long.
Just before the hour mark, the dangerous Valencia picked up the ball on the right and burned past two Leverkusen defenders with just sheer pace. His delivery to van Persie was behind the Dutchman but van Persie was able to get a good connection with his acrobatic overhead attempt. It was straight at Leno but the keeper inexplicably flapped at it and it was in. It was a soft goal for Leverkusen to concede but it was no more than United deserved.
And it got better for the home side after an action packed spell. First, Bender, who had come on for Son, fired a low shot which forced De Gea into a smart stop to his right. While everyone else wasn’t concentrating, the Spanish keeper launched a huge kick upfield which Toprak and Emir Spahic made a complete mess of. Rooney ran in behind, gave Leno the eyes and finished coolly at the near post. It was the type of incisive goal that we’ve come to expect from United over the years.
Leverkusen were still trying to get something from the game but when Hyypia threw on two more strikers it had an immediately adverse effect. After getting the ball on the edge of his own area from a Leverkusen throw, van Persie released substitute Ashley Young. Young led the break down the left and quickly played it inside to Rooney. The Englishman held onto the ball for a few moments before slipping in an onrushing Valencia. The Ecuador wing smashed it first time and low and past Leno for number 4. The delight was obvious for Valencia whose celebration honoured his friend, and recently deceased footballer, Christian Benitez.
The final stages had heated up and with two minutes to go, Leverkusen got a lifeline. Ferdinand conceded a soft corner under no pressure and it proved costly. Stefan Reinartz got in front of De Gea and headed against the bar. United couldn’t clear and Toprak smashed one in off the bar from 6 yards out.
There was nearly an immediate United response. The ball was worked out to Valencia who this time drilled a low cross right into the path of van Persie. The Dutchman was just 3 yards out with the goal at his mercy and he somehow put it wide. Even van Persie couldn’t believe that it hadn’t gone in.
The game petered out towards the end with Can’s late shot that went miles over an indication of the desperation of Leverkusen. When Slovenian referee Damir Skomina blew the final whistle, it was relief and joy for United and despair for Leverkusen.
A good win for United against decent opposition however there will be some concern over the defending at times – especially from Ferdinand. As for Bayer, they need to create more chances for the likes of Kießling and Son otherwise they will struggle in the group.
Manchester United: De Gea, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini (Cleverley 80), Kagawa (Young 71), Rooney (Hernandez 84), van Persie
Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Anderson, Fabio
Goals: Rooney (2), van Persie, Valencia
Yellow: van Persie
Bayer Leverkusen: Leno, Donati, Spahic, Toprak, Boenisch, Can, Reinartz, Rolfes, Sam (Kruse 78), Kießling (Derdiyok 78), Son (Bender 64)
Subs: Palop, Wollscheid, Hilbert, Ozultani
Goal: Rolfes, Toprak
Yellow: Son, Reinartz
MAN OF THE MATCH: WAYNE ROONEY (MANCHESTER UNITED)