Memphis Depay announced himself to Old Trafford with two stylish goals as Manchester United came from behind to beat Club Brugge 3-1 in Tuesday’s Champions League play-off first leg.
Bidding to reach the group phase after a first season out of the competition in 19 years, United fell behind to an early Michael Carrick own goal, only for Depay to turn the game around before half-time with a pair of brilliant strikes.
Brandon Mechele was sent off for the visitors in the second half, but it was not until stoppage time, when substitute Marouane Fellaini converted a cross from Depay, that Louis van Gaal’s side truly took control of the tie, which concludes in Bruges next week.
“It (Fellaini’s goal) makes a difference because 2-1 is a very difficult result,” said United manager Van Gaal.
“I am very happy for Memphis because a player needs that. I said it was a matter of time and hopefully he shall continue.”
Depay told BT Sport: “It is a nice feeling to score two goals at Old Trafford. We have to travel to Bruges and finish the job.”
Manchester United returned to Champions League football following a year without it
It had been 504 days since Old Trafford last hosted a Champions League game and there was a tangible sense of anticipation in the air as United made a vibrant start to the game.
But it was the hordes in blue and black in the East Stand who were the first to leap from their seats as Club Brugge took a shock eighth-minute lead.
Victor Vazquez’s free-kick from deep on the left flicked off Adnan Januzaj and in attempting to clear the ball, Carrick succeeded only shinning it past his own goalkeeper, Sergio Romero, from 16 yards.
It was the first goal United had conceded this season, but they were level within five minutes as Depay opened his account for the club in style.
Picked out by Carrick’s pass, the Dutchman chested the ball up and flicked it over a defender’s head before tiptoeing into the box and arrowing a right-foot strike into the bottom-right corner.
The giant stadium erupted and although Romero was required to field a volley from Dion Cools, United would not be sated.
Wayne Rooney had a volley hooked off the line by Vazquez and Depay squandered a one-on-one by trying to find Januzaj, only to overcook his pass, before warming Sebastien Bruzzese’s palms from range.
The visitors’ cause was not helped by the sight of veteran skipper Timmy Simons limping off through injury, with Claudemir replacing him, and in the 43rd minute the hosts went ahead courtesy of another fine strike from Depay.
This time the 21-year-old cut inside his marker wide on the left and arced a glorious shot inside the right-hand post from the corner of the box.
It was the first indication that the Dutch winger, a A?25 million ($39.1 million, 35.2 million euros) signing from PSV Eindhoven, might have what it takes to take on the mantle of feted former United number sevens such as George Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Depay missed out on his hat-trick when he failed to bury a delicious Rooney back-heel
But for long periods of the second half it looked like United would fail to build on their lead, with Bruzzese saving from Juan Mata and Depay, while Rooney and Depay shot wide.
The Dutchman then spurned a chance to complete his hat-trick in picture-book fashion, hoisting the ball into the Stretford End after Rooney had nudged Luke Shaw’s pass into his stride with a delicious back-heel.
Romero gave the home fans a moment of discomfort when he dawdled over a back-pass, which almost let in visiting substitute Obbi Oulaure, but United were otherwise untroubled.
Mechele saw red in the 80th minute after receiving a second yellow card for a foul on substitute Javier Hernandez and United finally made their dominance count when Fellaini headed home in the 94th minute.
“This last goal was very bad for the confidence,” said visiting coach Michel Preud’homme. “It’s a pity we let this one in.”