Wayne Rooney’s hat-trick saw Manchester United seal their place in the UEFA Champions League group stage in style with a resounding 4-0 (7-1 aggregate) win at Club Brugge.
The Red Devils never looked out of control once they got the first as they strolled to a huge victory over two legs, with Rooney breaking a 10-game goal drought with a treble.
It could have been a different story, however, if departing Brugge striker Tom De Sutter hadn’t seen his close-range volley blocked by Luke Shaw in the opening exhanges of the match at the Jan Breydel Stadium.
But with just under 20 minutes on the clock, the United grabbed their first away goal, as Memphis Depay roamed infield with the ball, shimmying past three Brugge defenders, before slipping a neat ball to Rooney, who dinked home his first goal if the evening.
A quarter of an hour later, Depay should have arguably bagged a goal himself, robbing the hosts of the ball and sprinting 30 yards to goal, but was punished for delaying his strike by the recovering defender Oscar Duarte.
With half time looming, Brugge pushed for a goal of their own, with Abdoulay Diaby carrying the ball into the United penalty area, but failed to round Sergio Romero, who did well to smother, before the ball eventually fell to Boli Mbombo, but the Argentine again scrambled across to save.
The Belgians rued this chance, eventually being punished just after the restart, as Louis van Gaal’s side launched a triple-pronged counter attack; Depay sprinted into the Brugge half with the ball, playing it wide to Ander Herrera, who squared it for Rooney to slot in his second.
Under five minutes later, the United captain, who’s been the subject of much criticism lately, secured the match ball, running onto the end of a Juan Mata through ball and placing it cooly into the far corner.
Shortly following his third, Rooney should have made it four, again latching onto a through ball from Mata, but his clipped effort was well denied by Sinan Bolat.
Just after the hour mark, van Gaal’s side did make it four, as substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger played a defence-splitting pass from his own half, spotting the advancing run of Herrera, who finished with ease.
In spite of the scoreline, Brugge showed no signs of demoralisation, nearly scoring one of the goals of the season. Laurens De Bock’s throw in was flicked on by Tuur Dierckx, and hit on the volley by Hans Vanaken, but his effort cannoned off the bar.
With 10 minutes to go, Brugge conceded a dubious penalty when Duarte headed a Rooney cross onto his hand. However, substitute Javier Hernandez missed the resulting kick.
In stoppage time, the Mexican blazed over a low Ashley Young cross from three yards, as his search for a first United goal since 2014 goes on.
Victory confirms Manchester United’s place in Thursday’s group stage draw for the first times since the 2013/14 season, where they will be in pot two, and could face the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus and even holders Barcelona. For Club Brugge, they await Friday’s Europa League draw.
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