Wayne Rooney hits hat trick, Man United into Champions League groups
BRUGES, Belgium -- Three thoughts on Manchester United's 4-0 win vs. Club Brugge on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League playoff second leg. United advance to the group stage 7-1 on aggregate.
1. Rooney finds his scoring touch
Wayne Rooney scored in a Manchester United shirt for the first time since April and went on to complete a 37-minute hat trick -- his first treble in European competition since his Untied debut against Fenerbahce in 2004.
Rooney was 19 goals off Sir Bobby Charlton's club scoring record at the start of the season but had struggled before Wednesday, and when one respected United voice opined before the game that he doubted Rooney would ever go past the record, he wasn't laughed at.
Manager Louis van Gaal and Rooney himself acknowledged his difficult start as he went four games without a goal while playing as United's central striker. In mitigation, he was often isolated and lacking support in an attack which lacked pace.
That trend continued in the first 20 minutes here, before Memphis Depay set up Rooney in front of the vocal home fans. One-on-one with goalkeeper Sinan Bolat, Rooney adjusted his balance and lifted the ball home.
He added a second three minutes after half-time thanks to an Ander Herrera assist and a third in the 56th minute after being set up by Juan Mata. Rooney's confidence will be lifted by the goals and by United fans chorusing his name, but the issue of his position remains.
When the United captain makes runs into channels, there's no forward for him to play off. Rooney and United will face far sterner tests than an injury-hit Club Brugge side playing with five attackers and leaving United's own forward players with too much space.
2. Herrera takes his chance
Ander Herrera must wonder where he stands with Van Gaal. The midfielder sat out a large chunk of last season for no obvious reason and then started every game as United's form picked up in the spring.
Popular with fans, he could have been forgiven for thinking that form meant his place in the starting XI was assured for this season, yet Wednesday was his first start of the campaign.
Herrera began in a midfield two alongside Michael Carrick and was booked in a first half that didn't best showcase his talents. But Herrera was neat and tidy before being moved further forward after the break as United brought on Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Herrera can play several positions, but his attacking instincts suit him better when he plays in an advanced position, and within three minutes of the restart he'd set up Rooney for United's second goal.
Herrera got a goal of his own after 62 minutes, running on to a Schweinsteiger pass and picking his spot before sliding the ball by the goalkeeper. The former Real Zaragoza and Athletic Bilbao player slid on his knees to celebrate in front of the 2,000 travelling United fans who joked "Attack! Attack! Attack!" after their team had scored four times.
It was Herrera's last contribution before he was substituted for Javier Hernandez, who was profligate in missing a penalty and an easy close-range chance. Rooney will get the headlines, but Herrera got a big confidence boost, especially in those 19 second-half minutes.
3. Januzaj, Depay need to be more consistent
Adnan Januzaj said after his surprise inclusion at Aston Villa two weeks ago that he needed games to reach peak fitness. While that is true, the 20-year-old won't have unlimited chances to impress in a squad full of competition.
Playing in the country where he was raised, Januzaj still looked short of match fitness and hasn't made the necessary impact on games this season. He was withdrawn at half-time and must do better in his linkup play with Rooney ahead of him.
Januzaj started in the central role behind Rooney, with Memphis Depay to his left. Depay was the player of the first leg with two goals and an assist, and the Dutchman set up Rooney for United's first and was involved in the second with a superb ball to Herrera.
However, while Depay has made an encouraging start to his Old Trafford career, he needs to be sharper, to make better decisions and to get his shots away quicker. On Wednesday he was fortunate to get 90 minutes and he, much like Januzaj, must strive for greater consistency.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.