The Champions League. The pinnacle of European club football. The 32 best (debatable) teams from Europe going head to head in a group/knockout competition. This season this could be the most tightly fought contest since its establishment back in 1992. Real Madrid and Barcelona have both gained new rising stars in Gareth Bale and Neymar, but will they be shadowed over by their god like overseers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The two German teams who contested last season’s final will no doubt be in the mix again this term, especially with the inspiring managers Jurgen Klopp and Josep Guardiola at the helm. The Italian representation this season will be strong as Napoli and Juventus will provide tough tests after a good bit of business in the transfer window; Juve bringing in Carlos Tevez whilst Napoli captured Pepe Reina and Gonzalo Higuain. Paris St. Germain will be stronger than last year’s appearance as their player’s champions league experience grows. And for the English representation, their success is anyone’s guess. Arsenal gained star player Mesut Ozil on transfer deadline day; can he help the team gain silverware for the first time in eight years? Mourinho will no doubt enhance Chelsea’s chances but he hasn’t had much success since he was at Inter who won the competition in 2010. Manchester City just want to get out of the group as they haven’t in their previous European adventures in this competition, and United, well they have a new boss who for him, is entering the unknown.
David Moyes has had some big moments in the few months he has been in charge of Manchester United; but the biggest of them all was tonight as he made his Champions League group stage bow as a manager. He also handed deadline day signing Maraoune Fellani a first start for Manchester United as they took on Bayer Leverkusen of Germany at Old Trafford.
It was a familiar face in the Leverkusen dugout as ex-Liverpool defender Sami Hypia returned to Old Trafford for the first time since leaving these shores back in 2009. The Fin had taken his German outfit to third in last seasons Bundesliga campaign and is also making his debut in Europe’s elite competition. This wasn’t going to be the easiest of opening group matches for Moyes and Co. Well that’s what many thought pre match when in fact the game was pretty comfortable for the Red Devils in the end.
The first half was dominated by Manchester United possession wise and the ball was forever in the final third as Leverkusen failed to manage to keep the ball and get it away from their own penalty area, United were comfortable on the ball, making steady progress towards the Leverkusen goal. Robin Van Persie had the first attempt of the evening but his shot dragged wide of the goal, not troubling the Leverkusen goalkeeper Leno.
The first goal seemed to always be coming; it was just a matter of when, and it took Manchester United twenty-one minutes to finally get through the German barricade as Patrice Evra guided the perfect cross into Wayne Rooney’s path and the England striker calmly slotted the ball home, although the Germans were adamant an offside flag should have gone up. Replays showed RVP was offside but didn’t interfere with the play and Evra was marginally offside so the linesman could be given the benefit of the doubt. What was more debatable though was the impact Antonio Valencia had on the goal as he seemed to be blocking Leno from saving Rooney’s shot. However the match referee decided to award the goal instead of agreeing with the German side’s appeal for a free kick.
Just before half time the England forward almost scored another from a set piece similar to the one he scored at the weekend in United’s win over Crystal Palace but his shot kissed the post as it went just wide.
Leverkusen had more impotence this half, they wanted the ball more and created more when they had it, making the contest more exciting as a spectacle. David De Gea was finally called into action after being more of a spectator for the first fifty minutes of the contest as he had to save a fierce shot from Sam. The Leverkusen winger released a shot which was straight at the United Goalkeeper.
What followed can only be judged as a blunder by Wayne Rooney. He had capitalised on a mistake by Leverkusen centre half Toprak, he then easily rounded Leno but in front of an open goal and RVP square on, the England international somehow managed to miss the goal. This miss proved crucial as only a minute later the Leverkusen skipper, Rolfes, curled a shot past a stranded De Gea to equalise for the Germans. For Mr Moyes, it was a painful watch as the score line should have read 2-0 not 1-1.
But like Manchester United do, they manage to get through the sticky spell of a game and restore their control of the game and it only took five minutes for the Red Devils to restore their lead as RVP volleyed a shot into the net, another goal for the Dutchman in the famous red shirt. It was a questionable attempt of a save from the Leverkusen goalkeeper however as Leno somewhat attempted to punch the ball out.
Wayne Rooney then scored his 200th goal in a Manchester United shirt as he latched onto David De Gea’s long kick and slot the ball into the near post following a defensive mix up between the two Leverkusen defenders. This secured Moyes’s first 3 points in the Champions League and led United to the perfect start to their European venture.
Manchester united seemed to go down the gears after that goal but with ten minutes to go Antonio Valencia added a fourth after top world class counter attack football from United had Leverkusen on the back foot and for David Moyes, the only thing he could taste now was victory.
Leverkusen did grab a late consolation through Toprak but that wasn’t to ruin a good night for David Moyes, who will be nothing short of relived to get that first Champions League win as Manchester United Manager.