Sunday 18 November 2018

No Old Lady luck for Juve as United strike late to seal victory

Juventus 1-2 Manchester United

Manchester United players start their celebrations after a late own goal handed them victory against Juventus. Photo: Getty
Manchester United players start their celebrations after a late own goal handed them victory against Juventus. Photo: Getty

Miguel Delaney

A horror show from Wojciech Szczesny, yes, but only after a much improved showing from Manchester United.

They offered a remarkable comeback from both their first match against Juventus in this group and going behind to Cristiano Ronaldo's stunning opening goal here, to record a surprise 2-1 win that may yet turn over this group too.

The late Alex Sandro own goal that Szczesny should have just batted away didn't just deny Juventus a point, but also prevented the Serie A side from confirming first place. United are now within two points of the Italians with two games remaining, after two dramatic late goals.

Szczesny was probably at fault for the first, and definitely was for the second. And while that result may be harsh on a Juventus team that squandered so many chances before Juan Mata's initial equaliser, it did reflect just how much better Mourinho's team were from the 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford.

They were more cohesive and committed from the off. That match at Old Trafford had been characterised - and won - by Dybala's untracked runs right through the centre, and this was clearly something Mourinho had addressed. That gap just didn't appear this time, at least from that route.

Whereas in that game Nemanja Matic just let Paulo Dybala race beyond him to score the only goal, the Serbian was aggressive enough about everything here to take the playmaker down, and risk a booking in the opening few minutes.

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after the match. Photo: Getty
Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after the match. Photo: Getty

Matic didn't seem to let it play on his mind, either. There was only one moment after that when Dybala got free, and that was in the second half when he hit a looping long shot off the bar, but again after having to go wide to find space.

Alternative

This was the general problem for Juventus, and the general improvement from United. They weren't allowing the Italians in as easily - with Victor Lindelof particularly impressive - and forced Max Allegri's side to continuously look for alternative routes.

A side as good as Juventus, and with players as good as Ronaldo and Leo Bonucci, were of course always going to find something. You just mightn't have expected it to be quite so rudimentary - at least in idea. It was route-one, no doubt, but the execution was first-class. Bonucci on 65 minutes offered a supreme long-range pass, and Ronaldo the perfect first-time volleyed finish.

Jose Mourinho argues with Leonardo Bonucci after the match. Photo: Getty
Jose Mourinho argues with Leonardo Bonucci after the match. Photo: Getty

The spell after that was United's most ruinous, as Juve were suddenly finding so many more openings. Cuadrado, Dybala and even Ronaldo squandered chances.

In all of this, it shouldn't be forgotten that this scoreline could have been much worse than the first leg had Juventus even offered one better finish in that 20-minute spell.

But they couldn't. And United continued to show a resilience, meaning everything just looked so much better.

Mourinho, meanwhile, continued to show an unyielding trust in Marouane Fellaini but his introduction was not the winning of this game. It was much more basic, much more rudimentary: two set-pieces that so exposed Szczesny.

It's impossible not to wonder whether Juve's hierarchy were watching De Gea's saves at the other end with even more interest.

They again set up United for another result they didn't warrant in performance, but this time did warrant in terms of resilience and character.

It meant that, as Mata stepped up for that 86th-minute free-kick, there was still only one goal in it and little margin for error. That was proved with Szczesny. He didn't exactly commit a howler here - that would soon follow - but the level of error was enough. He was too easily fooled by Young's decoy run, with the goalkeeper's sidestep meaning Mata's free-kick didn't even need to be planted in the corner. His curl was enough.

Young's subsequent injury-time delivery, meanwhile, only seemed to need being sent in the general direction of Szczesny's area. The goalkeeper patted feebly at it, ensuring the ball just bounced back in off Alex Sandro, who could do nothing.

It was more non-league than potential Champions League winners.

United don't look like the latter, but do look so much better.

They got a big break here, of course, but a newly-emboldened side were in position to take advantage of that break. They were psychologically primed for it. Their position in the group now looks so much better, too.

Independent News Service

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