|photo by riptheskull
David Moyes served up an attacking eleven for his initial foray into the Champions League, choosing to hand both Shinji Kagawa and Marouane Fellaini their starting debuts, and was rewarded for his aggressiveness as United punished their German visitors 4-2 in a compelling Tuesday night Champions League match at Old Trafford. The home side settled the crowd’s nerves early on as Wayne Rooney bounce-volleyed Patrice Evra’s cross into the net for a 1-0 first half lead, although the Reds' opener owed at least as much to Antonio’s Valencia’s potential obstruction of Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno as it did to Rooney’s skill.
The visitors fought back to tie the game after the interval, as Simon Rolfes’s long range shot deflected off an unfortunate Michael Carrick to leave David De Gea in no man’s land, and punish the Reds for an earlier blown opportunity to stretch their lead. Robin Van Persie restored the one goal advantage with a side-legged volley before Wayne Rooney put the result beyond doubt by bending the ball past Leno after receiving a fine distribution from De Gea. The home side padded their lead to three with a counter attack that’s been too rarely seen in recent times, with both Ashley Young and Rooney assisting Valenica’s confident finish. Although the Germans pulled back a late goal, the only effect of the final margin was to take a bit of the gloss off what was a very enjoyable victory by the home side.
Herewith our thoughts on the players' individual performances:
De Gea: Virtually uninvolved in the first half -- if he did any less he would have to be described as a spectator. Left rooted to the ground for Rolfes’ equalizer, but held on well when needed, and his long ball to Rooney led directly to the third goal of the evening. Will be disappointed with his effort on Leverkusen’s second goal of the evening. 7.0
Smalling: His height made it difficult for Leverkusen to penetrate from the left and gave United another threat on set pieces. Advanced the ball decently but didn’t present the same offensive threat as Rafael. 7.0
Ferdinand: On cruise control for the first half, but somehow managed to miss a clearance that led to Leverkusen’s first real shot of the evening. 6.5
Vidic: Ever dangerous on set pieces and saw more action in front of the Leverkusen net than United's during the first half. Will not be pleased with the defense’s inability to clear the ball at times in the second half. 7.0
Evra: A beautiful cross led to United's opening goal but the Frenchman was less involved on the offensive end than usual tonight. 7.0
Valencia: While the majority of his first half play was marked by less-than-accurate crosses, the Ecuadorian did offer a valuable assist during the first 45 minutes – in the form of his body block on (and in) Rooney’s goal. Valencia significantly upped his game for the second half, offering the ball that RVP buried to restore the home side’s lead, and the winger will be more than pleased to have scored an emphatic goal that accounted for United’s final score on the evening. He played as if the Manager asked him for more at the break, taking on defenders in ways we haven’t seen in months. 8.5
Carrick: Afforded loads of time on the ball by the visitors, but was the unfortunate victim of a deflection on the equalizer. 6.5
Kagawa: The Japanese international was handed his home debut this season, and split open Leverkusen’s back line near the half but United were unable to take advantage of Kagawa's skill. Will be disappointed not to have scored before the break after displaying fine skill while chesting down Valencia's cross. 7.5
Fellaini: Looked as if he fit hand in glove with Moyes’ set up, the Belgian repeatedly broke up Leverkusen's attacks and contributed mightily to the team's defensive efforts. A solid start to his United career. 7.5
Rooney: Right place, right time for the opener - how did Leverkusen manage to leave a player of his caliber unmarked in front of goal? Wazza looks as if he’s about to embark on another purple patch of scoring, but his inability to square the ball to RVP just after the break was punished by the visitors. More than made up for his mistake with a finely taken ball to beat Leno for United’s third and the Englishman’s second, and laid the ball off to Valencia for the Reds’ fourth goal of the evening on a classic Manchester United counter-attack. A Man of the Match performance for the second game in a row. 9.0
RVP: Worked hard to get involved but suffered from a lack of service in the first half. Although his temper surfaced near the interval when the Dutchman was booked for a series of needless fouls, Van Persie was only anticipating the frustration he would feel when he and Rooney failed to link up with the Leverkusen goal at their mercy. Offered a moment of pure class to restore the lead, and was likely relieved that Leno failed to deal with a ball he might have punched away. Should’ve scored a second on the night in the waning moments. 7.0
Young (Kagawa): Played a significant role in the counter attack that led to United’s fourth of the evening. 7.5
Cleverley (Fellaini): Insignificant effect on the outcome N/A
Hernandez (Rooney): Wasn’t offered enough time to make an impact N/A
This is farlieonfootie for September 17.