UEFA Champions League
Bayer Leverkusen 0 Manchester United 5
What promised to be a tricky away tie turned out to be anything but, as United produced easily their best performance of the season to outplay a Bayer Leverkusen side who’d previously been in a rich vein of form and secure qualification for the last sixteen of the Champions League. With Van Persie, Vidic and Carrick all unavailable through injury, their replacements more than stepped up to the mark and, on this evidence, fears that the Reds’ squad this season might be lacking in the depth of old are some way wide of the mark. This was a cruise and, while some poor defending from the home side contributed to their defeat, nothing should detract from a superb display of fluent, passing football from United.
The Reds were in command from the start, although they found it difficult to carve out clear cut chances in the first twenty minutes: the best was a curling shot from Nani that went just over the bar. When the goal that started the deluge came it was a peach. Kagawa, reveling in his preferred role in the hole behind the main striker, picked the ball up on the break and played a simple pass to Giggs who freed Rooney on the left. Rooney’s cross was perfect, just clearing the head of the advancing Kagawa but finding Valencia, who slid the ball home at the far post.
The Reds deservedly doubled the lead on the half hour thanks to another piece of precision from Rooney. His free kick from the left appeared to be on the way to the head of Smalling but it was Spahic who got there first, only to glance the ball into his own net.
This was a free-flowing performance from United and it continued into the second half. Phil Jones offered solid security in midfield, allowing Giggs the space to create and, with Kagawa and Rooney ahead of him, the central attacking spine possessed a consistent potency that’s been lacking so often this season,. While Nani offered sporadic glimpses of form on the left, Valencia terrorised the Germans on the left flank, consistently out-pacing his man and delivering dangerous passes that were a return to the pre-2012 vintage.
It was therefore little surprise when United secured a third in the second half, from a goalmouth scramble that finished with Jonny Evans stabbing home from a few feet out. The fourth came from another unlikely source, though it was far easier on the eye, Kagawa’s delightful weighted ball finding Rooney who set up Smalling to score from close range. The full-stop that Nani provided in the dying minutes was more of an exclamation mark, the Portuguese player latching onto a ball from Giggs to side foot the ball cheekily past the advancing keeper.
With Shakhtar Donetsk winning against Real Sociedad, this result means United will require at least a draw in the last game in order to secure top place in the group. Qualification is assured, though, and much credit should go to David Moyes for how well he’s handled his first season in the Champions League. While there was much concern over the failure to see off Real Sociedad in the previous game, that appears a mere minor blip in a very smoothly managed progression through the group stages, culminating tonight in what ought to be duly recognised as one of the best displays from a United side in Europe in recent times.
More of this, please.