A stellar performance from Wayne Rooney paved the way for Manchester United FC to qualify for the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds with a matchday to spare, their 5-0 Group A victory at Bayer 04 Leverkusen coming courtesy of five different scorers.
Before tonight, Leverkusen had won eight consecutive home games in the group stage but, after a cagey opening at the BayArena, Antonio Valencia was on hand to tap in a Rooney centre. Rooney's fine free-kick was then headed into his own net by the unlucky Emir Spahić before, in the second half, Jonny Evans made it three from a Rooney rebound and the talismanic forward set up Chris Smalling's fourth. Nani completed the scoring late on.
The Red Devils move three points clear in the section while Bayer – who drop from second to third – visit Real Sociedad de Fútbol on 10 December knowing they must better FC Shakhtar Donetsk's result in Manchester to go through.
While coach Sami Hyypiä had promised a more attacking Leverkusen side, understandably they did not go out all guns blazing. Even so, a Spahić header flew just over the bar and Stefan Kiessling saw his shot blocked by a timely Evans intervention, shortly before Nani came closer still when his curler from a Ryan Giggs lay-off went narrowly over.
David Moyes had insisted he had the better team at his disposal – and was probably thinking of the in-form Rooney when saying so. The United No10 did not grab a goal himself, but was instrumental in much more than just the two first-half goals that silenced the home crowd. For the opener, Shinji Kagawa robbed Stefan Reinartz of the ball and eventually Rooney floated a cross to the back post, where Valencia raced in for a first-time finish. Eight minutes later, a dangerous Rooney free-kick found an unwilling recipient in Spahić's head, leaving Bernd Leno powerless.
The Premier League title holders were now in control and enjoyed themselves on the break. Hyypiä's side never really looked like reducing arrears and Rooney also contributed to United's third after the hour, when his close-range effort after a corner was denied by Leno, only for Evans to tap in.
The best goal was to follow: Rooney latched onto Kagawa's brilliant chip into the area and then directed the ball past Leno for an easy conversion by Smalling. Nani sealed matters minutes from time by rounding Leno and it was the only goal in which man of the match Rooney, by then substituted, did not feature. Usually, counterattacks and set pieces are Leverkusen's main strengths, but here they were eclipsed in both departments as United romped home.