Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed a stoppage-time winner as Manchester United came from behind to secure a fortunate 2-1 Champions League Group F win over Villarreal at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Unai Emery set up his Villarreal team in an identical manner to the Europa League final. However United truly struggled to break down the Villareal’s low block.
The visitors had the better chances in the first half. Arnaut Danjuma gave Diogo Dalot a torrid evening on the left. David de Gea was forced to pull off a number of magnificent saves. Including one from close range from Yeremi Pino. Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood were the main targets for the hosts. The team seeked to shift the ball wide at pace to keep Villarreal’s resolute backline moving. Yet, chances weren’t forthcoming for Manchester United as frustration around the ground grew as the match headed into the break.
Villarreal opened the scoring in the 53rd minute of play. Paul Pogba was left confused by Victor Lindelof charging way out of position to close a loose ball. The French midfielder then failed to track his midfield runner as the Spanish side broke forward. Dalot failed to cut out a slide rule pass to Danjuma inside the penalty area. He duly cut the ball across the face of goal to Paco Alcacer; who poked the ball beyond De Gea at the near post. United equalized within 7 minutes. Fernandes spotted unmarked Alex telles from a freekick and Telles did well with a exquisite volley. This goal turned the tide. United attacked Villareal on several events. But each chance slipped until the last minute.
Old Trafford thought their moment had come with 10 minutes left to play; when substitute Cavani had a header at the back post following a Greenwood cross. But the ball flashed wide. In the End, it had to be Ronaldo. In the 94th minute of the game; An aerial pass into the box fell to Lingard, who lost his footing. The ball fortuitously to Ronaldo who fired the ball into the back of the net.
It was evident that Solskjaer wanted to go on the offensive with a 4-3-3 lineup. Scott McTominay was anchoring the midfield solo, with Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes pushed on either side of him. Solskjaer tried that system against Wolves earlier on in the season and for this game. It’s a formation many would like to see Solskjaer use on a more regular basis. But the performance when it was deployed here was disjointed and stuttering for large periods despite the late win. With the substitution of Matic, United were more in control of the game.
David de Gea’s first half performance was the only reason United did not go into half-time behind. The Spaniard had to bail United out more often than Solskjaer would like but he continued his sparkling form so far this season. When United fell behind, many might have expected one of the many world class creative players on the pitch to provide a moment of magic to make the difference. But in fact, It was Alex Telles, only in the side because Luke Shaw is out injured, who stepped up to the plate.
Relief reigned at Old Trafford at the full-time whistle, and victory takes United onto three points ahead of two matches against Atalanta, with their hopes of qualification now being much stronger courtesy of Ronaldo.
It looked as though Manchester United were going to face the difficult prospect of back-to-back games with Atalanta after taking just one point from their opening two games, but there was to be one last moment of drama.