Bayer Leverkusen 0-5 Manchester United

Bayer Leverkusen            

Manchester United         Antonio Valencia 22 Emir Spahic 30 o.g., Jonny Evans 66, Chris Smalling 77, Nani 86

File:David Moyes (201551591).jpg

So poor was Manchester United’s second half display in Cardiff on Sunday, a confident performance against an equally confident opposition would have been the minimum demanded by David Moyes. In the event, Leverkusen’s inability to defend set pieces, the same weakness that proved to be United’s downfall in Wales, gave them result they sought and far more. It is a result as thrilling for Moyes as it will be devastating for Leverkusen manager Sami Hyypia, whose side promised so much, and delivered so little. For the Fin, so often a towering defensive presence during his time at Liverpool, it  made for ugly viewing.

Jonny Evans’ 60th minute goal from corner that should have been cleared, and an earlier own goal that skimmed off the head of centre-half Emir Spahic and into the Leverkusen net after 30 minutes, gave United the confidence to eventually utterly dominate a game that in the open exchanges appeared to be very even. It ended in United’s biggest ever Champions League away win, something that no one, not even Moyes, would have dared to expect.

With United’s maligned midfield missing both Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini, it was another opportunity to impress for United’s decidedly second choice set of Shinji Kagawa, Nani and Antonio Valencia. Kagawa’s only sniff at regular appearances has been in the Champions League this season while Nani was making his first Champions League start since being sent off against Real Madrid last season.

After an opening 15 minutes in which both sides enjoyed considerable freedom to pass and find space to spread attacks, it was the Portuguese who provided the earliest threat, curling an effort from 25 yards which narrowly floated over Bernd Leno’s crossbar. For their part, Leverkusen displayed an early confidence that reflected their 10-game unbeaten home in the competition.

But in United’s opening goal there was an element of the devastating counterattack that used to be such a classic element of Alex Ferguson’s best sides. After a poor corner from Leverkusen, Kagawa carried the ball away into the German half before handing it over to Wayne Rooney, whose floating cross landed at the feet of Antonio Valencia to poke home from 3 yards. Leverkusen had gone so close only 2 minutes before, as Jonny Evans dived in to prevent Kiessling from slotting the ball past David De Gea, but it was the quality of Rooney’s cross that put paid to the home side’s hope of a more positive start.

Leverkusen played with an attractive confidence at times but their adventurousness could not disguise a desperately vulnerable back line. United’s second owed much to the quality of Rooney’s delivery, albeit this time from a free kick. The cross looked dangerous as it left his boot and so it was, the ball skimming off the head of Emir Spahic and beyond Leno. After 30 minutes, the only difference was that United had taken the chances that they created for themselves and Leverkusen had not.

United’s counterattacking threat meant that on several occasions Kagawa in particular found himself in considerable space behind Leverkusen’s midfield and had the Japanese not fired the ball directly in the arms of Leno after one particular quick counterattack after half an hour, Leverkusen may have suddenly found themselves 3-0 down and staring at an insurmountable lead.

It was lucky, because in the first half United often found either second to the ball or giving possession away cheaply. To their initial credit, Leverkusen played with no less confidence whilst down 2-0 then they did at in the first ten minutes, frequently attacking the United back four with pace and width. What they lacked was a Rooney, who produced another performance of thrilling energy and creativity. It is difficult to imagine that this was a player only a few months ago who seemed absolutely determined to force his way out of Old Trafford. It is to Moyes’s credit that he has been able reinvigorate Rooney back to his snarling, unplayable best.

The second half should have been an exercise in control for David Moyes, but it turned into a mauling. Rooney’s delicately lobbed pass that set up Chris Smalling for a fourth ten minutes from the end was as dispiriting for the attending crowd as the inability of star man Stefan Kiessling to make any kind of impact. The striker had warned United that his side at learned from their mistakes of the home leg, but there of little evidence of this in a performance that was considerably worse by the home side than in their previous outing. Only after Nani rounded Leno to tap home for the fifth in the final minutes was David De Gea forced to make his first real save. By then, it was a trudge to the exits for the home fans.