Daley Blind said Memphis Depay had "a lot of confidence already" going into Manchester United's Club Brugge opener; rightly so, says UEFA.com's Simon Hart.
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When Louis van Gaal declared to the media on Tuesday night that he wanted to kiss Memphis Depay, he was probably not alone in that sentiment at Old Trafford. The size of the young Dutchman's contribution to Manchester United's play-off first-leg success over Club Brugge can barely be overstated.
It was his first game under the Old Trafford lights and the way he stole the show brought to mind Wayne Rooney's stunning debut treble for the club against Fenerbahçe in 2004. Depay grabbed the tie by the scruff of the neck, scoring two superb individual goals before setting up the late Marouane Fellaini header that provides United with a two-goal cushion to take into next Wednesday's second leg, when they will bid to guarantee their return to the group stage after a season's absence.
Scorer of 22 Eredivisie goals for PSV Eindhoven last season, Depay had scored once in the UEFA Champions League before – in a qualifying win against Zulte Waregem in 2013 – but he has not played in the group stage.
He had not scored in United's first two Premier League games, both narrow 1-0 wins, but the latest man to wear the club's famous No7 shirt is not short on self-belief as Daley Blind, his Dutch international team-mate, noted. "He is a player and personality with a lot of confidence already, but he has a lot of qualities," said Blind, who continues to look assured in his new centre-back role. "He has a very strong shot, he is strong on the pitch and he works very hard to improve."
United had managed only three shots on target in those two opening domestic fixtures – when it was the defensive contributions of players like Blind and Matteo Darmian that stood out – but last night they came alive as an attacking force and Depay, who had five attempts on target overall, led the way.
His first strike, after 13 minutes, to cancel out Michael Carrick's own goal, followed a wonderful piece of skill as he took a Carrick pass on his chest and then flicked the ball over Dion Cools, collected it on the other side and ignored the two defenders on his back as he cut into the area and scored with a low shot. The second, two minutes before half-time, was a superb curling effort from the left side of the area.
He might have had a hat-trick. In one brilliant second-half move, Luke Shaw galloped away down the right and Rooney flicked the ensuing cross into Depay's path, but the youngster fired over. It is unlikely to be the last time we see Depay and Shaw combine.
Off the pitch the pair hit it off to such an extent during United's pre-season tour that MUTV quizzed them about their budding "bromance" and Shaw said last night: "The relationship has started to build up. We have played a couple of games now together and I have an understanding how he likes to play. It is great to be playing with him. He can beat a man and he likes the support from me as well which is something I like to do."
If Shaw is delighted to have Depay working with him down the United left, Club Brugge's young full-back Cools could be forgiven sleepless nights after facing the Dutchman. The Belgian club's Spanish playmaker Víctor Vázquez admitted: "In the one v one with our right full-back Dion, he did a lot of damage – everyone could see we had problems. He kept the pitch wide open as he knows he's strong in the one v one and he can strike a ball well too. He was the best player on the pitch. You saw the two goals and then his cross, which was a good one."
Vázquez added that the losses of Timmy Simons ("who gives us balance") to injury and Brandon Mechele to a late red card had hurt Club Brugge, though but for Depay's added-time ball to the head of Fellaini, they would have returned home only a goal behind. "[The third goal makes] a big difference now as we need to score twice and not concede," added Vázquez.
Club Brugge's noisy supporters, so impressive in their backing of their team last night, will get right behind them once more, but whether they can keep that man Depay quiet remains to be seen.