As far as Manchester United Champions League debuts are concerned, Wayne Rooney set the bar high with a hat-trick on his very first start for the club more than a decade ago but talented Dutchman Memphis Depay produced a performance possibly even more significant to rescue his new club in this qualifying first leg tie.
Trailing to a surprise Michael Carrick own goal after only eight minutes and threatened by an ambitious and pacy Belgian opponent, Memphis scored twice before the interval to steady United nerves although it was not until the final kick of the game, when Marouane Fellaini rose to head home past his countrymen from a Memphis cross, that the hosts could feel satisfied.
After a season without European football, failure to reach the Champions League group stages is unthinkable for United, and not only because of the estimated loss of £35 million in revenue that elimination would bring with it.
United have spent big - very big - in the summer transfer market with the expected singing of Barcelona midfielder Pedro about to take Louis van Gaal’s expenditure well through the £100 million barrier. Memphis, however, has wasted little time in demonstrating that the £25 million invested in him was money well spent, judging by his European bow for United.
“I’m very happy because a player needs that,” said van Gaal of Depay. “We have said it’s a matter of time for him and it was a matter of time. Hopefully he will continue but it’s difficult. He’s only 21 and he’s only had two seasons with PSV. But I’m confident in him and not only did he score his two goals but his assist was a fantastic cross.” After 13 minutes, Carrick made amends for his own goal, pinging a brilliant pass at Memphis’ upper body, allowing his team mate to show devastating touch and control on the edge of the Brugge area as he flicked the ball over his closest marker Dion Cools, slalomed his way into the area and finished past the diving goalkeeper as six defenders converged on him.
It was a stunning example of the blend of power and intricate skill that saw Rooney score three times on his debut against Fenerbahce in 2004 and which the England centre-forward has been struggling to rediscover.
Rooney’s form may be lacklustre but, behind him, Memphis, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata were certainly lively enough here with Memphis having a promising shot blocked even before United fell behind.
In the closing stages of the half, however, Memphis would not be denied with his second goal every bit as clinical as his first. This time, it was a pass from Daley Blind which created enough space for the Dutch youngster to cut inside a defender and curl a shot into the far corner.
It was a strong end to the first half, and much needed given that United had gifted their Belgian visitors a potentially important away goal in the opening stages after a foul by Mata on Ruud Vormer. Victor Vazquez drilled a routine free-kick into the area from 30 yards with Carrick sliding in and steering the ball past the diving Sergio Romero.
Old Trafford was stunned by the audacity of the visitors who would continue in similarly fearless fashion, particularly down the left where they repeatedly exposed Luke Shaw and ghosted into space left by the defender.
But United rallied and successive Memphis corners found Rooney who came close with a volley and glancing header, Memphis sprinted into the area and tried to square for Januzaj when a goal attempt seemed in order and Memphis, again, had a 20-yard shot parried by Sebastien Bruzzese.
Brugge, who had started the game at a frenetic pace pressing the hosts high up the field, looked to be fading at the start of the second half, Mata, Memphis twice and Rooney all flashing shots towards the opposition net.
There was a reminder of United’s current goalkeeper problems when Romero almost made a mess of a routine back pass under pressure from Mamadou Oulare but escaped by winning a fortunate free-kick from the German referee.
The second half, however, was largely about United seeking a much-needed third goal. Memphis almost claimed a hat-trick after a magnificent move and Rooney back-heel and the irrepressible Dutchman then sent a 35-yard free-kick sailing just wide - echoes of the Cristiano Ronaldo comparisons that United’s new number seven brought with him from PSV.
“I ended last season with a lot of goals but I have come to a big club and I have to do the job again,” said Memphis. “It’s a nice feeling to score my first two goals at Old Trafford. That’s why I’m a little bit disappointed I missed two more chances. I’ll forget about that tomorrow but tonight I’ll be thinking about that.” Hopes of a late Brugge fightback were not helped when defender Brandon Mechele was dismissed 10 minutes from time for a trip on Javier Hernandez and a second yellow card and the visitors were made to pay deep in injury-time when, first, defender Chris Smalling wasted a chance and then Fellaini did not - his last-gasp header offering United a much-needed two-goal advantage.
MAN UTD (4-2-3-1):
Romero 6; Darmian 6, Smalling 7, Blind 7, Shaw 6; Carrick 7 (Schweinsteiger 45, 7), Schneiderlin 7; Mata 7, Januzaj 6 (Hernandez 71, 6), Depay 9; Rooney 6 (Fellaini 84).
CLUB BRUGGE (4-1-3-2):
Bruzzese 6; Cools 4, Mechele 6, Duarte 7, De Bock 6; Simons 5 (Claudemir 40, 6); Vormer 7, Vazquez 8 (Vanaken 78, 6), Bolingoli Mbombo 6; Dierckx 7, Diaby 6 (Oulare 55, 6).
Deniz Aytekin (Germany) 7
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved