Football: No Neymar cure for Man Utd scoring woes

Wayne Rooney looking dejected after a missed chance in the first leg against Club Brugge. Manchester United have looked for reinforcements but Barca's striker Pedro spurned them for Chelsea.
Wayne Rooney looking dejected after a missed chance in the first leg against Club Brugge. Manchester United have looked for reinforcements but Barca's striker Pedro spurned them for Chelsea.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Barca dismiss transfer talk, van Gaal's goal-shy team still favourites to advance to Champions League group stage

BRUGES (Belgium) • As Manchester United's 18-man squad flew to Belgium yesterday without want-away goalkeeper David de Gea for the second leg of their Champions League play-off against Club Brugge, the presence of Ed Woodward raised some eyebrows.

United's executive vice-chair was part of the travelling party despite speculation of an audacious move for Barcelona forward Neymar.

Woodward has reportedly claimed that United have bigger targets after missing out on Pedro, who moved from Barcelona to Chelsea last week. But the Spanish club yesterday rejected talk that Neymar could leave for Old Trafford in a world-record deal.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu also revealed that the Catalan giants are keen to offer the 23-year-old Brazilian superstar a new contract.

"Those are just rumours and what people write but there is nothing to it," Bartomeu told Catalan radio station Catalunya Radio.

"Neymar is happy at Barca. We don't want Neymar to leave at all.

"In a few months' time, we will discuss his contract extension as he has three years left on his current deal. We want him to stay for many years, three, five, 10 or even 15 years more with us."

Neymar scored 29 goals last season as Barcelona won a treble.

United's problems in front of goal remain a concern ahead of tonight's clash against Club Brugge.

Louis van Gaal's side have scored only twice in their three league games to date. One was an own goal by Tottenham Hotspur's Kyle Walker, the other was a deflected shot by Adnan Januzaj against Aston Villa.

Captain Wayne Rooney has come to symbolise United's problems in the opposition penalty area, having gone 10 club games without finding the net.

United right-back Matteo Darmian is expecting a tough away test but is adamant the Red Devils can return to winning ways following their 0-0 home draw against Newcastle on Saturday.

"For us, 0-0 would be a good result but we always try to win and, when we go to Brugge, it will be no different," the Italian told MUTV.

"We know that they are a good team, particularly at home, but we'll be going out to win and we know what we have to do. We don't think that it will be easy but it's very important to all the people at the club for us to qualify."

United are strong favourites to book a spot in the lucrative group stage - after a first season out of the competition in 19 years - following last week's 3-1 win in the first leg.

Club Brugge manager Michel Preud'homme believes that his side require a perfect performance if they are to achieve the "miracle" of eliminating United.

The Belgian side overturned a 1-2 first-leg deficit against Panathinaikos in the previous qualifying round by winning 3-0 at the Jan Breydel Stadium.

However, Preud'homme struck a pessimistic tone at his pre-match press conference.

"It would be a great miracle," said the former Belgium goalkeeper.

"They are two goals in front, they have a very professional team, can make a decision by an action at each moment.

"And we have some problems with the number of players that were already out in the first leg, plus (captain) Timmy Simons and (centre-back) Brandon Mechele."

Mechele is suspended after being sent off for two bookable offences in the first leg.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'No Neymar cure for Man U woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe