United went behind to an eighth-minute Michael Carrick own goal in Tuesday’s first leg at Old Trafford, but Depay scored two superb goals before teeing up substitute Marouane Fellaini for an injury-time header that put Van Gaal’s team firmly in control of the tie.
A 2-1 win would have given the Belgian side real hope of turning the tie around in Bruges next Wednesday and after seeing Depay set Fellaini up for the crucial third goal, Van Gaal declared: “I want to kiss him tonight.”
The line, however, was part of an answer in which Van Gaal explained his reluctance to single out individual players for praise and the United manager said that Depay’s true value to the squad could be seen in the example he set for his younger team-mates.
The goals were Depay’s first since his £25 million (Dh143.8m) switch from PSV Eindhoven, but Van Gaal was heartened that when interviewed after the game, the 21-year-old winger had rued spurning a chance to complete his hat-trick by lifting a shot over the bar.
“He’s never satisfied. I like that,” said Van Gaal, a Champions League-winner with Ajax in 1995, who is bidding to lead United into the group phase after their first season out of the competition in 19 years.
“You have to know what you are doing and also what you can do and then your desire to improve is higher. And that’s Memphis.”
Van Gaal gave Depay his stripes at international level during his tenure as coach of the Dutch national team and he said that the forward was now a very different player.
“The Memphis of Holland was green,” Van Gaal said.
“He was like (Andreas) Pereira and Adnan (Januzaj). Pereira’s 18 years old, but can also play in Manchester United. But you have to look for consistency in that age,” said Van Gaal, misstating the age of Pereira, actually 19.
“It’s not only Adnan who has to look for that, but also Pereira and (Paddy) McNair and (Jesse) Lingard and all the players we have in this selection, and that you cannot know as a manager. You have to show it.
“And then they shall be compared with the other players in my selection. It’s not so simple to be in the line-up.”
Carrick shinned a free-kick from Victor Vazquez into his own net, but five minutes later he provided the pass that led to Depay’s first, the Dutchman flicking the ball over an opponent’s head and drilling home.
Depay put United ahead two minutes before the interval, sweeping a glorious shot inside the right-hand post from the left-hand corner of the penalty box, before teeing up Fellaini’s close-range header in stoppage time.
Carrick made way for Bastian Schweinsteiger at half-time and Van Gaal explained that the move was partly tactical and partly driven by his desire to help the Germany international build up playing time following his transfer from Bayern Munich.
Beaten coach Michel Preud’homme conceded that Fellaini’s late goal was “very bad for the confidence” and struck a fatalistic tone when asked about Club Brugge’s chances in the return leg.
“The message is we learnt a lot last season with all our European games,” said the former Belgium goalkeeper, who took Club Brugge to the Europa League quarter-finals in 2014/15.
“Today we went a step higher. Let us learn. Maybe next season it’ll happen much more that we face such teams.
“We’re always learning – we have a lot of young players – and we’ll try to be better in the second leg.”
Club Brugge centre-back Brandon Mechele will miss the return leg after being shown a second yellow card for a late foul on Javier Hernandez, while captain Timmy Simons is a doubt after limping off injured.
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