Anyway, thanks all for your emails and company - night-night.
Ok, well that was pretty weird. Leverkusen were, frankly, miserable, and United were too for chunks. But they improved significantly in the second half and did well not to forget themselves after conceding an equaliser they were clearly not anticipating. It's hard to know whether David Moyes is any closer finding his first team, or whether he just has one brilliant striker and one sometime brilliant striker, either rediscovering his touch or beginning one of his periodic streaks that usually precede some sort of injury. Otherwise, Antonio Valencia seemed to enjoy himself for the first time in a couple of years, Shinji Kagawa was his usual combination of perceptiveness and invisibility, and Rio Ferdinand had a stealthily constructed nightmare.
FULL-TIME: Manchester United 4-2 Bayer Leverkusen
90 min There shall be three added minutes.
89 min Another majestic miss, this time by Robin van Persie - he affects a superiority even by making an arse of himself. Anyway, Valencia spanks over another low cross, but this time into the space between keeper and defence, leaving Van Persie alone and in front of goal, not quite at the back post and very, very close. He gently extends a leg to deflect it back the other way, which he does, but somehow sends it wide. Exceptional skill.
Confusion between De Gea and Ferdinand results in a left-wing corner, for which De Gea comes with little intention or hope of getting it. He's beaten to it by Spahic, who thunders a header against the bar, and the ball bounces around deliberately avoiding the brows and feet dangled ihjn its direction before Toprak becomes bored and annihilates a finish in off the bar from close range. "They've given themselves a sense of something," says Tyldesley with gnomic existentialism.
GOAL! Manchester United 4-2 Bayer Leverkusen (Toprak, 88)
87 min As Evra foils Donati's attempted cross, an irate Joe Mann emails in. "Why is Clive Tyldesley insisting on calling David Moyes 'Davvvvid Moyes', as in 'De Gea' or 'Silva'? Has Dave decided to rebrand himself with a continental moniker in order to convince the sceptics that he is up to the United gig? Or is Clive just an arse? Andy Townsend has even pointedly corrected him, and it doesn't seem to matter. Mental."
85 min In all the excitement, Cleverley came on, for Fellaini, I think - or put another way, a curosry glance of the pitch I coiuld see revealed no hair - and then Hernandez replaced Rooney.
81 min "People have been quick to criticize Valencia but it took some guts to give up the # 7, and by all accounts except yours he's having quite a game it seems," thunders Elijah Miranda.
I disagree with the first part of that - he was cut more than plenty slack, but has played miserably for at least a couple of seasons now. His performance tonight has been better, it's true - some terrible things, but a few good ones, too. The point is this: his predecessors in the Fergie era are Sharpe, Kanchelskis, Giggs and Ronaldo, and oughn't that to be the standard?
And what a goal this is. United are defending, when the ball finds its way to Van Persie, winning it maybe three yards outside the box and quickly moving it onto Young, sweeping down the left. He squares quickly to Rooney, who, with two men in front off him, pokes deftly and softly between them for Valencia. Though the pass is perhaps a little soft - he's forced to wait for it longer than ideal, but only a soupcon - before zetzing a low finish past Leno and in at the near post. He celebrates by pointing to shoulder - where, apparently, he has a tattoo dedicated to Chucho Benitez, who died in the summer - and sky.
GOAL! Manchester United 4-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Valencia, 79)
78 min Sam is replaced by Kruse and Kiesling by Derdiyok, which reminds me that following United's goal,disgrace's Ashley Young came on for Kagawa.
76 min "Van Persie is responsible for at least three of the most beautiful volleys I've ever seen," says Matt Dony. "That one, however, looked inordinately ugly when replayed in slow motion. But it's an ugliness that is beyond even most footballers. The ball could hardly have been in a worse place for him. He surely has some sneaky extra joints."
Perhaps after he finishes football, he could do this.
74 min Rooney's finish was a little like this...
This all begins with a Leverkusen attack, Bender forcing a ball through to Son that Ferdinand and Smalling contrive to muddle back towards him. Driving into the box in its pursuit, he drills a low shot that goes through Vidic's legs but is straight at De Gea. And from there, De Gea aims a long pass to Rooney - it's not quite accurate, but handily for them, two defenders converge and both miss headers. This allows Rooney to advance on goal, diagonally from the left, and staring hard at Leno's far post, sweeps a finish over his legs at the near - a little like his goal for England against Croatia in Euro 2004. It's his 200th for United.
GOAL! Manchester United 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Rooney 70)
69 min Van Persie has so much composure that he might do himself a mischief, and eases away from his man, finding Rooney inside him. The ball is spread instantly wide to Valencia, who paggas a contribution of sorts that's deflected behind for a corner that comes to nowt.
68 min More on the velvet debate that is transfixing football: "I would think crushed velvet would present a less ‘catchy’ surface," offers Wes Salmon.
Pulled taut, and very thick?
66 min Van Persie is cracked and collapses, earning United a free-kick almost dead centre, just outside the D. As men race back to get on the line, followed by other men planning to obscure his view, Rooney fires quickly into the wall.
65 min Manchester City have scored three quick goals to lead in Plzen - Paul Doyle has news of that one.
64 min Bender, nursing hip and pelvis knack, replaces Son.
62 min "Now you've got him doing pirouettes," chides Sam Tinson. "That velvet would definitely, definitely rip, no matter how tightly you nailed it. Or what colour it was. Just saying."
What, even if it was very thick velvet?
There are few men able to inspire so many to feel such inadequacy as Robin van Persie. Fellaini sends a sensible ball wide to Valencia, who puts his head down and
slams an aimless cross actually attacks his man down the outside, though aided by the lack of any challenge. Clipping back a cross to the near post, he then locates the aforementioned superiority, who somehow contorts his body to divert a ball from behind him and about waist-height, high towards goal. It was straight at Leno, who ought probably to have done better than parry into the net - but even the most soothsaying soothsayer could not have predicted a volley of that ilk.
GOAL! Manchester United 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Van Persie, 59)
56 min It's possible that the ball took a little clip off Carrick on its way in, but was so sweetly struck, it looked destined for the net in any event. Anyway, it should do something to help what has been a fairly muted evening's football so far.
This is a real jazzer. A ball into the box is foraged behind by Song after Ferdinand blocks his shot, arriving at Rolfes, 25 yards out and left of centre. With his left foot, his swipes one around Carrick and past De Gea who'd not time even to contemplate movement.
GOAL! Manchester United 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen 1(Rolfes, 54)
52 min Oh I say! A tremendous miss from Wayne Rooney! Toprak dallies in possession just outside the box, and rolling under his studs and turning back towards goal, is relieved of it by Rooney. Wide on the left, he looks across to Van Persie and elects not to set him for a tap-in, instead dragging past the keeper's outside, leaving himself an empty net. With Van Persie still available for a tap-in, he instead rolls his shot at the gaping goal, but somehow, wide of the post. Oh, Wayne.
51 min Leverkusen have a shot. Rolfes lifts a hopeful ball into the box, and Ferdinand, in the unfamiliar position of being forced to head a clearance, leaves it for Vidic anyway, ducking underneath. When it's returned, Sam turns into a shot that's right at the keeper.
50 min Some almost quality, Van Persie spinning on a coin of non-sepcific denomination, into a slid through-ball headed for Kagawa, only just intercepted by Spahic.
48 min Valencia receives possession on his wing, and confronted by his marker,
skins him on the outside in devastating style shmices a hopeful low cross that comes to nothing.
48 min Rooney sends Kagawa a flick, who returns one, but inaccurately. Lucky us.
47 min More of the same, or not more of the same, it might be more appropriate to say.
46 min Off we trudge once more.
A point I forgot to note: the first half had no added time, a point pointed out by Dwarakesh Srinivasan. "When was the last time that you saw a match that had no added time?" he wonders.
I'm not sure, but this is a hobby-horse of mine. Never, ever do you get the time that's due. More than often enough, you see a game with three or four second half goals and celebrations, six subs, and four extra minutes. I'd be in favour of 35 minutes halves, say, with the clock stopping each time the ball wnet out of play, otherwise the time that's played is entirely aribtrary.
Half-time email. "Skating on velvet?" sneers Sam Tinson. "Nah. It would ruck up under the blades and rip, impeding forward momentum and causing all sorts of bother. Unless you meant roller skates, in which case surely marble or aluminum would be a better choice of surface. The only other sort of skate is a fish, and I don't think you meant RVP was advancing like a fish in velvet. Although this is quite an image."
What if the velvet were nailed perfectly taut? And purple...
Also, I know that it's tradition to announce such behaviour as is about to follow as shameless, but this isn't it, because I'm deeply ashamed. However, should anyone be interested in a new book exploring United's Treble season, well, what a coincidence, because here one is.
Half-time ad break...
A curious half, this. It's been slow and slovenly in the main, with sudden pockets of inadvertent activity. United probably - possibly - deserve to be ahead, not just on account of being ahead, but because they've had almost all the play. The goal was shifty as, though in a sense no more than Leverkusen deserve for a performance that's somewhere high and far on the cowardly-inept axis.
HALF-TIME: Manchester United 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen
44 min United almost "double their advantage". Valencia escapes down the right with a slight wiggle, and clip-drives crossfield for Kagawa, inside the left of the box. He controls lovelily on his chest, skips inside a half-stride, and drills a shot that flicks off Spahic and goes just wide.
42 min San and Spahic combine to drag down Van Persie, who again feels the warmth - by the end of the season, he'll be the Ready Brek kid. From 30 yards, and fairly wide on the left, Rooney arcs the free-kick over the wall and wide, low down by the near post.
40 min But prior to all that, Leverkusen were knocking it around a little though without threatening even a threat. Consequently, it's back to jerseys, with Gabriel Piller. "I like purple,|" he declares. "I prefer it in combination with other colours, but I'm still cool with it on it's own. Grey is right out for me. No grey kits please. I think the real trouble starts with shades. I see a lot of neon and pastel shades and it drives me nuts. (E.g. St. Pauli's standard goalie kit this year is a mint/pastel green disaster. Yuck.)"
I don't mind purple per se, it's just when you pick it for a goalkeeper for no reason, and especially when it's adorned with shapes and shades. He's a goalkeeper, he'll never look right.
38 min Some action. Rooney finds Kagawa, around the left edge of the box, and with Evra's run pulling a defender out of the middle, he slides a snappy straight ball for Van Persie. With the keeper advancing, to quickly for him to lift over him, he cuts back a cross, that is itself cut out. Moments later, Van Persie is booked, experiencing radge after Donati catches him.
34 min "What has happened to Valencia?" wonders Ruth Purdue. "Why is he so afraid to drive on or take on players anymore? At least Young tries!"
Valencia's main problem is that he's in the wrong sport. Had he stayed in Wigan and played rugby league, we'd be talking about an all-time great. The fact is, he's just not that good at football, though I agree how much he's deteriorated is odd. Last season it was blamed on injury, but it seems as much a mental thing with him - that changing of shirt number has me blushing, and I am not, for the avoidance of doubt, him.
32 min Leverkusen earn a succession of corners and do nothing with them, like almost every single football team in the history of the history of football teams. It really is nonsense, and easily solvable: every time you hit the first man, £1,000 fine, and your choice of noogie, bicycle ride or nose tweak. Done and done.
30 min I apear to have done Valencia a disservice; he was not merely impeding Leno with his presence, but administering a quick shove too, a pillar with arms like something out of a kids' fantasy novel. This has gone down badly with John Allen: "Great to see that UEFA have gone back to 1950s rules for this season's Champions League. Valencia taking a leaf out of Nat Lofthouse's book with that manhandling of the goalie." To avoid straying too heavily into "I think it was me who said" behaviour, I'll simply say that you might be interested in last week's Joy of Six.
28 min Son nips round Vidic's outside, just ride of centre, and hoists a dinked cross to the far post, but Smalling leaps and cranes head and neck into a clearance.
27 min There were approximately 17 things wrong with that United goal. Evra and Van Persie were marginally offside at varying moments, and by the time Rooney finished, Valencia was standing almost in front of the keeper and well behind the final defender. Perhaps he might finds future employment as a pillar somewhere.
25 min More loveliness from Rooney, out wide on the right and fixating on the ball as it arrives, bringing it down and delivering it into his stride in a single movement, then slipping it through the legs of Spahic. His cross earned a corner that came to nothing.
This is a very clever goal. Van Persie teases his man along the left touchline, running along it, then turning back, then back and back again, laying back for Carrick, who clipped a typically astute ball for Evra, zipping into the space vacated by Van Persie. He looked up, espied Rooney, and cut back - but the ball was in the air, so the finish, driven firmly into the ground and arriving at the net just under the bar - was both difficult and smart.
GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Rooney, 22)
19 min Reinhartz reaches a ball slightly after Carrick and sliding, but with his studs raised, and catches him a stinger on the foot. He's booked. Van Persie then slings in the free-kick from the right, and there's a minor kerfuffle as Leno comes but without really wanting to, and Smalling arrives at the ball ahead of the pursuing phalanx of defenders - but it skims his scalp and bounces on the roof of the net.
18 min Leverkusen are mainly sitting off United when they've possession in their own half - it appears that they're backing themselves to defend properly, and hoping to attack swiftly.
16 min David De Gea is wearing purple, which is, I suppose an improvement on buttercup, but really. Surely there are some colours that football jerseys must not be (Anderlecht and Fiorentina excepted, of course). If it's already chosen you, fine, but you must not choose it.
14 min United break from the corner, Rooney motoring - yes, motoring -sweating too, but definitely motoring - around Son along the right, who retrains him. For this, he is booked.
12 min Leverkusen force a corner on the right, taken by Sam and headed clear by Fellaini, who also heads away the subsequent cross. This really is curious stuff so far, about as intense as blancmange. But Reinarts assumes possession just outside the United box and rams a shot that strikes Vidic around the arm area, earning a corner that Vidic clears.
10 min Fellaini, right of centre, clips a clever first time ball into Van Persie, who advances as though skating on velvet, before driving a 20-yarder just wide of the left post.
10 min It's hard to discern the Leverkusen gameplan here, because they've done the cube root of 1,000,000 x 0 so far, without United doing anything significant to disturb them.
8 min Carrick and Kagawa arrange a shooting opportunity, the former finding the latter just inside the box and his square ball locating Rooney, just around the D. But he dwells on a controlling touch, unable to quite decide what to do, and the effort is blocked.
6 min Rooney, out on the left, checks back and then moves the other way along the line, flighting a crossfield ball to Valencia. He immediately
sets upon his man with vicious pace and intent passes it sideways to Carrick, and the move fizzles out.
5 min Smalling overruns the ball on halfway and slides a sore one into Reinartz, who loiters on the ground for a moment, before springing up and perhaps saving his assailant a card.
3 min "Loving Rooney's Rab C Nesbitt tribute headband," chirps Simon McMahon. "Hope he's gone the extra mile and is wearing a string vest under his shirt."
Still action to the minus one.
1 min This game will be played "under a bigger microscope than usual," comments Clive Tyldesley, but elucidates nothing as to the size of its lens. The ground is quiet and things are slow.
1 min Antonio Valencia receives the ball, and belts it away as fast as possible.
1 min Leverkusen mosey us off.
Imran Azam emails to chide me for not yet mentioning Sami Hyypia. Sami Hyypia.
Actually, he calls him "the great Sami Hyypia", a point at which I'd baulk, save for the double-Ys.
The MBM is morphing into the OBO, part the 35,723th: "I'm pretty sure the referee is not better than the charming Finnish wine enthusiast I'm seeing this weekend," brags Mike McMenemie. "But he probably understands a professional foul a lot more than she does."
He knows a person!
And one more. "Interesting move," muses Alan Hawley, "starting an avant garde pop band in the midfield. Would have thought they were a little long in the tooth..."
Well, Ryan Giggs has still been getting in, and I suspect United fans are glad of a midfield of any sort, after the bagel formation of the previous few seasons.
Email, with Ebeneezer Azamgba. "I am a Chelsea fan," he chirps, "and would like to see Man United's evening in disarray."
It's started well for you - they're in those horrific Ayia Napa uncovered polo jerseys. What a mess.
By the time the teams met again the following season, Leverkusen were depleted, and Veron had been shunted to the left wing. Which enabled him to do this.
We've been here before. In 2002, the teams met in the semi-final, saving United the appealing and appalling prospect of such a contest against Liverpool - and at the time, Leverkusen were perceived as an open net en route to Fergie reclaiming what was rightfully his, at Hampden Park against Madrid.
But occasionally there turns up a team full of proper players in the process of revealing themselves - Ballack, Lucio, Ze Roberto - and full of others playing as well as they ever will - Ramelow, Basturk, Neuville. United, without Roy Keane in the first leg, struggled to a 2-2 draw, and without Ruud van Nistelrooy in the second, took the lead, through Keane, but Neuville's goal just before half-time was enough to put them out on away goals.
Freedom at last for the Kobe one. Well, of sorts. Shinji Kagawa starts his first game of the season, whether as one of three roaming behind Robin van Persie, or shackled to the left-wing, we shall see. Otherwise, Marouane Fellaini makes his full debut, replacing Anderson from the weekend starting XI, and Smalling is in for Fabio and right-back. Ryan Giggs is not even on the right-wing, let alone the bench.
Leverkusen bring in Donati for HIlbert at right-back, Toprak for Wollscheid at centre-back, and in midfield, Can replaces Castro. Bender is on the bench.
Man Utd (4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, some other numbers): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Fellaini, Kagawa; Rooney, Van Persie. Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Anderson, Hernandez, Young, Fabio Da Silva, Cleverley.
Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-3): Leno, Donati, Spahic, Toprak, Boenisch; Can, Reinartz, Rolfes; Sam, Kiessling, Son. Subs: Palop, Wollscheid, Bender, Derdiyok, Hilbert, Oztunali, Kruse.
Better than whoever you see at the weekend: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
And this group is no slice of urine, this game neither. Leverkusen finished last season just one point behind Borussia Dortmund, and though United were aggravated at their defeat to Madrid, the reality is that it saved them the severest of punishment beatings, Bilbao to the Nth.
Similarly, Leverkusen have begun this season in similar style, trailing only Dortmund and Munich, and with four wins from five. They are a settled, cohesive and speedy team, everything that United are not, and in Stefan Kiessling, boast the Bundesliga's top scorer from last season.
Preamble. Life can be daunting. How to relate to other people, what on earth to make of ourselves with all those things we think and do, how to handle work, which Baltika to try next, whether the objects in our fridge are lined up in height order, just actually having this absurd thing called a body and just doing this absurd thing called living. Life can be daunting.
And then there's David Moyes, tasked with following Alex Ferguson as manager of Manchester United. A man who won 12 league titles, more than twice as many as any other. A man who destroyed, charmed, frightened and compelled, whose personality dominated a generation. A man who turned up at Old Trafford having already won a European trophy, destroyed the Old Firm, and still found himself wandering about the place, repeatedly mumbling "big club, this" to himself. Life can be daunting.
But 2/18, one ninth, 11.1%, a U - that is not daunting, and it's Fergie's record in the European Cup, a mark that's not only attainable, but surpassable. Even he knows he ought to have done better, that he didn't a consequence of what you might call fear and a feeling similar to that which Moyes will be feeling tonight - one motivated by history, the other inadequacy.
Which pretty much brings us back to where we began: life can be daunting.