Depay's star on the rise, Rooney's on the wane
United skipper clocks another mediocre showing as new signing sizzles
MAN UNITED 3
(Memphis Depay 13, 43, Marouane Fellaini 90+4)
CLUB BRUGGE 1
(Michael Carrick 8-og)
As soon as the plaudits for Memphis Depay started streaming in, so did criticism of Wayne Rooney.
One's walking on air and the other's trudging through slime and grime
The only thing that joined Manchester United's two stars at Old Trafford yesterday morning (Singapore time) was history.
In 2004, Rooney marked his first-ever appearance in a Red Devils top with a hat-trick in a Champions League clash.
Eleven years on, it was Depay's turn to sparkle, in his first Champions League match for United, with two goals and an assist to help them force a 3-1 comeback win over Belgian outfit Club Brugge in a qualifier.
Stunning debuts spaced 11 years apart aside, there was little else in common between the two yesterday.
Depay, 21, expressed disappointment at not having done more. It merely summed up his performance - so good that it ought to have been even better.
For 29-year-old Rooney, there was nothing to say. Disappointment was written all over a forgettable display.
The juxtaposition accentuated the contrast in fortunes.
Depay came to his team's rescue.
Brugge had taken a shock early lead after Michael Carrick deflected the ball into his own net.
Then the Dutchman decided to take things into his own hands.
Deployed in his most effective position on the left flank for the second game in a row, he dazzled and left the opponents hanging on for dear life.
Capitalising on the space on the wing, he used his speed and dribbling skills to devastating effect, often drifting in to double up as an inside forward.
And when the opposing backline showed a mere hint of vulnerability, he didn't hesitate to cock his right leg and unleash the magic.
For the first goal, he flicked the ball nonchalantly over defender Dion Cools before thumping a fierce low shot past goalkeeper Sebastien Bruzzese.
For the second, he cut inside, after receiving Daley Blind's pass, to fire a powerful curler beyond Bruzzese to give his side a half-time lead.
A few gilt-edged chances to complete his hat-trick were subsequently spurned. But he had one final contribution to make.
Deep into injury-time, he worked his mojo again - this time from the flank. His cross of Beckham-sque precision was met by the head of a grateful Marouane Fellaini, who made it 3-1.
This was a sterling United display. But Rooney played no part in it.
In the 64th minute, he set up Depay with a brilliant backheel, but that was as good as it got for the skipper.
Last season, he was often a midfielder crying out for a chance to be played up front. Now, he's a striker who doesn't look like he's got a clue.
In the current 4-2-3-1 system that manager Louis van Gaal employs, there aren't natural crossers of the ball to feed him with the service that he craves.
And United are already overstocked with options in the no man's land between the opponents' midfield and defence to consider moving him just slightly further back.
It may be that Rooney's problems stretch beyond positional limitations.
According to Opta, the England striker has managed just four goals, one assist, and only 14 shots on target in 20 Premiership matches this year.
On this occasion, none of his four shots required the goalkeeper's intervention.
He badly needs a shot in the arm, one that is nowhere to be seen at the moment.
There was one final humiliation for Rooney.
As United chased one more goal to take into the second leg next week, van Gaal decided that he needed someone who could make a difference.
Six minutes from time, Rooney made way for Fellaini, who scored the Red Devils' third soon after.
From the bench, he could only look on, perhaps with hurt, but most certainly with worry.
Very soon, he will be ordered to reproduce the brilliance of that exquisite performance against Fenerbahce 11 years ago.
OTHER PLAY-OFF, 1ST LEG RESULTS
- Astana (Kazakhstan) 1 Apoel Nicosia (Cyprus) 0
- Bate Borisov (Belarus) 1 Partizan Belgrade (Serbia) 0
- Lazio (Italy) 1 Leverkusen (Germany) 0
- Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) 2 CSKA Moscow (Russia) 1
Depay: I could have scored a hat-trick
Manchester United's man of the moment Memphis Depay admitted that he was still a bit disappointed despite scoring two goals and creating the third goal in their 3-1 win over Club Brugge.
Said the Dutchman: "I'm happy that I scored and, of course, I'm happy that we won, but I must admit I'm a bit disappointed because I could have scored the last two chances and got a hat-trick.
"I will think about that tonight and forget about it tomorrow."
Louis van Gaal was pleased that the 21-year-old is setting standards at a similar height to his.
"When you score two goals and the assist also, normally in the world, you are the hero. But for a coach, it's different," the United boss said.
"He's never satisfied. I like that. You have to know what you are doing and also what you can do and then your desire to improve is higher. And that's Memphis."
Meanwhile, Red Devils' left back Luke Shaw believes his partnership down the flank with Depay is starting to blossom.
"Of course, I am really happy for him today," Shaw told MUTV. "He is working so hard in training.
"He was really trying to get that first goal.
"Now he's off the mark, hopefully it can bring him many more goals.
"I think our relationship is starting to build up, we have played a couple of games together and I am starting to understand how he wants to play.
"It is great to be playing with him, he can beat a man and he likes the attacking support from me as well - which is something I like to do."
- Wire Services.
Brugge boss concedes defeat
Club Brugge boss Michel Preud'homme insisted he does not know how to beat Manchester United after their Champions League play-off, first-leg loss yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Star defender Brandon Mechele was sent off for a second yellow card, while captain Timmy Simons limped off with an injury, making next week's return leg a tougher task.
Preud'homme told BT Sport: "You have a small chance at home, but it is going to be very difficult.
"If we have to miss our captain and central defender (for the second leg), with all our injured players, I don't see the solution to beat Manchester United."
- Wire Services.