Martial makes up for early error to rescue United
CSKA Moscow 1 Manchester United 1
Published 22/10/2015 | 02:30
Anthony Martial is developing a habit of scoring when it matters for Manchester United and his match-saving contribution in Moscow may yet prove the difference between success and failure in the Champions League this season.
A scruffy, unconvincing performance against CSKA Moscow in the Khimki Arena looked set to end in a costly defeat after Martial's error in giving away a first-half penalty enabled the Russians to take the lead.
But the 19-year-old's diving header midway through the second half earned United the point which kept them well-placed behind group leaders Wolfsburg, knowing that back-to-back home victories against CSKA and PSV Eindhoven will see them into the last 16.
United will have to perform much better than they did in sub-zero temperatures here, however, to have any hope of contesting Champions League fixtures in the spring.
Much has changed for United since they were last crowned champions of Europe, in this city, back in 2008.
Alex Ferguson's team were a formidable force, one which would also reach Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011, but the sheen of invincibility has long since worn off, to the extent that they travelled to the Russian capital having won just one of their last eight away games in the competition.
That victory was almost two years ago - 5-0 against Bayer Leverkusen in November 2013 - and Louis van Gaal's players extended that unimpressive sequence with a 2-1 defeat away to PSV Eindhoven in their Group B opener last month.
But few teams can harbour realistic hopes of progression from the group stage without at least one positive result away from home, so the onus was on United to emerge from Moscow with at least a point.
CSKA, who held Manchester City to a 2-2 draw at the Khimki Arena 21 months ago, went into this game with confidence high thanks to an unbeaten home run dating back to April in all competitions.
Leonid Slutsky's team are also unbeaten at the top of the Russian Premier League, five points clear of the pack and were always likely to prove an awkward opponent for United. So it proved.
United, with winger Jesse Lingard making a surprise start ahead of Memphis Depay, quickly gained control of possession, but not for the first time under Van Gaal, they too often moved the ball sideways rather than forward. CSKA simply soaked up the pressure with two banks of four before threatening United on the counter-attack.
Zoran Tosic, the Serbian winger who made just five substitute appearances for United after a £7 million transfer from Partizan Belgrade, gave his former club the first warning of CSKA's threat on the break by cutting into the penalty area before curling a left-foot shot wide in the 21st minute.
Two minutes later, the home side took the lead after another foray into the United 18-yard box resulted in Anthony Martial conceding a penalty for handling a Mario Fernandes cross.
Goalkeeper David de Gea was able to push Roman Eremenko's spot-kick on to the post but, as ever in this situation, an attacker reacted quicker than a defender and Seydou Doumbia pounced to strike the loose ball past a helpless De Gea.
Doumbia has proven to be a thorn in the side of many Champions League opponents for CSKA and the Ivory Coast forward almost doubled his team's lead after 30 minutes with an audacious shot from 35 yards that the back-pedalling De Gea tipped acrobatically over the crossbar.
United's response was limp, however. More flat passing, no penetrating runs by Martial and Wayne Rooney. Igor Akinfeev, the CSKA goalkeeper would have been pondering the possibility of his first Champions League clean sheet since a shutout against Arsenal 33 games ago - in 2006! For Akinfeev was a mere spectator until he blocked a half-hearted Rooney effort at the near post shortly before half-time.
With United having done so little to test the CSKA rearguard during the first half, Van Gaal made a tactical switch at half-time by replacing the ineffective Bastian Schweinsteiger with Marouane Fellaini.
Plan B or panic measure, Fellaini is nothing if not effective and the Belgian's arrival at least gave United a focal point and released Rooney to roam the final third as opposed to plough a lone furrow through it.
United survived another penalty scare when Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo waved away appeals after Rojo's left arm clearly struck the ball. But the visitors then put the Russians under pressure.
The surge began on the hour, when Akinfee saved Rooney's near-post header from Ander Herrera's cross. Three minutes later, Herrera was again the creator when he found Lingard in the penalty area but his side-footed shot went straight at the goalkeeper.
United's pressure was rewarded on 65 minutes, when Martial's header from Antonio Valencia's cross bounced in off the far post.
United had breached the CSKA defence having played effectively for only five minutes. With a knife at the home side's throats, they now had to chase the winner.
Despite dominating the final stages of the game, though, United could not find the winner which would have put them within touching distance of qualification.
With CSKA due at Old Trafford in two weeks, there is still plenty of work to do. (© Daily Telegraph, London)