Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal admitted that his side’s route to the Champions League group stages was looking precarious until substitute Marouane Fellaini’s last-gasp intervention calmed their nerves last night.
Club Brugge had taken a surprise lead through Michael Carrick’s own goal before £31m forward Memphis Depay kickstarted his Old Trafford career with a clinical first-half double, while Fellaini gave United breathing space late on.
“It makes a difference because 2-1 is a very difficult result,” said Van Gaal of next week’s second leg.
“But it is not a simple opponent. I have read in the newspapers in England that it is simple, a walkover, and it is not like that. It’s still a game but of course, because of the last goal, it’s now confident for us.”
Van Gaal also hailed former PSV Eindhoven attacker Depay, who operated from the left after chalking up two quiet Premier League outings playing behind a central striker.
“I have said it is a matter of time and it was a matter of time,” added Van Gaal. “Hopefully he shall continue but it is difficult for him. He is 21 and he has only played two seasons for PSV but I have confidence in him. “
Club Brugge shocked Old Trafford by taking an eighth-minute lead when an ill-timed lunge by Carrick saw him divert a seemingly harmless Victor Vazquez free-kick past United goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
But redemption was forthcoming as the England midfielder located Depay with an incisive pass and the Dutchman showed trickery and then composure to draw United level with a low, clinical shot.
Belgian cup winners Club Brugge were winless in 11 games on English soil and fell behind before the break as Depay, picked out by Luke Shaw, cut inside and curled beyond keeper Sebastien Bruzzese from the edge of the penalty area.
Depay wasted the opportunity for a hat-trick shortly after the hour mark as he fired over from skipper Wayne Rooney’s deft flick after a free-flowing counter-attack led by full-back Shaw.
Visiting centre-half Brandon Mechele received a second yellow card with 10 minutes remaining, before Fellaini powered home a stoppage-time header from Depay’s cross.