The UEFA Champions League group stage got off to a winning start for David Moyes as his Manchester United team beat Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
United started with plenty of possession and space to play in front of the Leverkusen midfield, but there was little penetration at either end of the field for the opening 20 minutes. With both bosses, David Moyes and Sami Hyypia, officially in charge for the first time in the competition, it was perhaps natural that the start was cautious and low-key.
Shinji Kagawa looked bright on his first start of the season, but a couple of long-range sighters for Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney was the best either side mustered, before United opened the scoring in controversial circumstances.
Leverkusen wanted an offside decision against Patrice Evra, who was allowed to play on before he crossed for Rooney to finish high into the roof of the net—but Antonio Valencia was arguably fouling Bernd Leno, obstructing the keeper, and was certainly in an offside position at the time.
The rest of the half remained with United in the ascendency, but a Kagawa shot which just cleared the far post was as close as they came to a second.
After the restart there was far more entertainment on show in each penalty box.
Rooney did brilliantly to win the ball and round goalkeeper Leno, who had an all-round horror-show of a night, but the United man contrived to put his shot wide of the far post with an open goal at his mercy.
Within a minute Leverkusen were level after Simon Rolfes' shot was deflected off Carrick and past David De Gea, but van Persie volleyed United back ahead just five minutes later after another poor attempt by Leno to keep out the shot.
Rooney made it 3-1 after more sloppy defensive work let him in to score his second of the night, and his 200th Manchester United goal overall.
Rooney off after 83 minutes - to a deserved standing ovation from Old Trafford.— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) September 17, 2013
The best goal of the night came after a lightning counter-attack saw van Persie and Rooney involved to set up a thunderous finish from Valencia, with Leverkusen pulling another goal back in the final minutes through Omer Toprak.
GOAL GRAPHIC: Now that's how you score a counter-attacking goal Manchester United. Brilliant! pic.twitter.com/HQLAEgyoD5— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 17, 2013
Key Player Grades
Wayne Rooney: A
Rooney was irrepressible once he got going, constantly finding room to play in in front of the Leverkusen defence and able to link midfield and attack with precision and regularity. His two goals were well-taken and he also claimed an assist on United's last goal. At this rate, United will be extremely glad they didn't let him leave this summer.
Stefan Kiessling: C
The German striker worked manfully across the front line, but was entirely starved of service either in open play or from good delivery off set pieces. Kiessling resorted to working the right channel to try to involve himself, but Leverkusen lacked mobility and confidence in really taking the game to United.
Shinji Kagawa: B
In his first start of the season, Kagawa was a threat for United during the first half. His assured touch and knack of finding space in the final third looked to be a way for them to create chances on goal, and though he wasn't heavily involved in the eventual attacks which counted, he demonstrated why so many are keen to see him in the side. Understandably tired after the break and was withdrawn.
With still five games to play, Leverkusen have plenty of time to make up for this defeat, but they'll have to approach matches far more positively. United look as though they've already found their ideal midfield platform for Europe with Fellaini and Carrick central. Next up, a trip to Ukraine for United against Shakhtar Donetsk, while Leverkusen entertain Real Sociedad.