Manchester United produced their best display of David Moyes’s short reign to beat Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 in Germany and seal their place in the Champions League knockout phase. United had been impressive in the reverse fixture and were even more so at the BayArena, admittedly helped once again by a listless an error-prone performance from the side second in the Bundesliga.
Antonio Valencia got the victors on their way midway through the first half, before Emir Spahic headed Wayne Rooney’s free-kick past his own goalkeeper shortly after. The three points and a last-16 berth were then sealed when Jonny Evans tucked in in the 65th minute before Chris Smalling and then Nani made the score line even more emphatic late on.
It was a deserved result for a United side who performed in sharp contrast to many of their outings thus far under Moyes, not least their draw at Cardiff City at the weekend. It was a very different story for Leverkusen. Having gone on a fine run of results since losing 4-2 at Old Trafford in September, a performance of more conviction might have been expected at home, especially with a chance to clinch a place in the knockout round themselves with a victory. Instead, Sami Hyypia’s outfit once again stood off their opponents and provided little concerns for the visitors.
That freedom enabled Ryan Giggs and Shinji Kagawa to regularly get time on the ball and provide the kind of cohesion and quality that has been lacking of late. Moyes’s decision to play Rooney up front, in place of the injured Robin van Persie, and finally hand Kaagwa a start in his favored central role paid off handsomely.
Against the run of play, Leverksuen had actually had the first chance of the contest. Stefan Kiessling breezed past Rio Ferdinand with far too much ease on the edge of the box and looked set to score, but for a fine saving tackle by Jonny Evans. It proved to be a pivotal moment.
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Just a minute later United went on a flowing break to get a deserved lead, with little surprise at the two mean who led it. Kagawa broke from inside his own half before slipping a clever pass across to open space up for Giggs. The man who turns 40 in just two days found Rooney down the left, who put in a teasing cross to the far post where Valencia was left unchecked to slide in and find the back of the net off the post.
United continued their pressure, with Leverkusen looking increasingly lost on their own pitch. Eight minutes later they were two goals behind. Kagawa was again involved as he won a free-kick out on the left. Rooney’s delivery, this time from a dead ball, was equally threatening and, going up to challenge Smalling, Spahic glanced a header into his own net with keeper Bernd Leno unmoved.
After Nani had dragged a shot wide to spurn a good opening, Leverkusen came close to pulling one back. From a corner, both Stefan Reinartz and Spahic struck David de Gea’s left-hand post. In truth, though, had the ball crossed the line it would have been an unfair reflection of the balance of power.
Sure enough, United soon put the result beyond doubt. Evans followed up his first-half defensive save by prospering at the attacking end and turning the ball in from close range after Rooney had helped on Patrice Evra’s header down following a corner.
And in the final 13 minutes some extra shine was put on the night for the Premier League champions. First, after Massimo Donati conceded possession on the edge of his own box, Kagawa capped his performance by playing a delicate through ball for the equally impressive Rooney to help it square over the advancing Leno for Smalling to finish into an empty net.
Moyes’s first away victory in the Champions League was rounded out two minutes from time. A delightful first-time pass over the top from Giggs put Nani in behind and the Portuguese took the ball perfectly in his stride before produced a skillful finish with the outside of his right foot from a tight angle.