MAN UNITED 2, VILLARREAL 1
Cristiano Ronaldo reignited Manchester United’s flagging Champions League campaign with a dramatic injury-time winner against Villarreal at Old Trafford.
The Reds, surprisingly beaten at Young Boys in their opening Group F game, looked as though they would have to settle for a point against the Spanish side who they had never beaten in five previous meetings.
Then in the 95th minute, and with almost the last kick of the match, Ronaldo scored his fifth goal in five appearances since rejoining the Reds.
It sparked joyous scenes at Old Trafford where United had been second best for much of the night against former Arsenal manager Unai Emery’s Villarreal.
It was Ronaldo’s 14th career goal against Villarreal and he jettisoned his shirt as he wheeled away in delight and the restart was delayed after two fans strayed on to the pitch.
It was an electrifying finish to an otherwise underwhelming display from the Reds who fell behind to a Paco Alcacer goal and only drew level through a spectacular first goal for the club from Alex Telles.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described it as another magical night of European football at Old Trafford and praised Ronaldo’s predatory instinct.Embed from Getty Images
He said: “We saw that against Ireland (in a World Cup qualifier for Portugal) when he missed a penalty and then scored two headers in the last few minutes to win the game.
“He is so strong mentally. I saw all day how he built up for the match and how focused he was.
“He only had once chance and that is a mark of a very good finisher the way he stayed calm when he get a chance.”
Of the match, Solskjaer said: “It was a very difficult game against a very good side. Villarreal had a lot of big moments, and we were lucky to have the best goalkeeper in the world. That’s David (de Gea).
“In the second half they deserved their lead, but at Old Trafford we have had magical nights and Cristiano came up with another after Alex scored a fantastic goal.”
Solskjaer added the win made up for the disappointment of the defeat against Young Boys.
He continued: “It is better to win this way rather than the way we lost the game a couple of weeks ago.
“We need to get to 10 or 12 points as quickly as possible. It was important to win the game in this fashion and I would rather have one win than two draws.”
Bruno Fernandes said: “I always had the feeling we could win the game. And when they scored, I felt we could come again and turn it around.
“After the goal of Alex the push from the fans was unbelievable. Some amazing saves from David to keep the score at 1-1. Then at the end, the strikers have that feeling to score and Cristiano helps us again.
“We finished with two strikers, and we know any ball in the box they will be alive to it. We know they can score at any moment and that is why we continue with crosses. We are happy with three points.
“It is always difficult to play against Spanish teams. They are good on the ball, and we know that coach is here in England already. They played good football and were organised in defence. But I think we do a good job. Sometimes we have to be patient and not press all the time. The main thing was the three points.”
The match was a repeat of last year’s Europa League final and Solskjaer had revenge on his mind after their defeat on penalties.
The United manager made four changes to the side that lost at home to Aston Villa on Saturday.
Three of those were enforced in defence with skipper Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw injured, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka was suspended.
Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof and Telles came in with Jadon Sancho replacing Fred the other change.
Villareal suffered a blow before the game as forward Gerard Moreno, who scored in that Europa League final in May, was out injured, while former Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin was suspended.
Veteran Spanish defender Raul Albiol skippered the side and former Spurs’ players Juan Foyth and Etienne Capoue both started. Big money summer signing Arnaut Danjuma, brought in from Championship side Bournemouth, also started as did former Liverpool left back Alberto Moreno.
And it was Danjuma who had the first chance of the game breaking away down the left but firing straight at De Gea.
The dangerous Danjuma had another opening as he cut in from the left before seeing his strike superbly turned away by De Gea.
Villarreal continued to carve out the clearer openings as a header from Paco Alcacer forced another terrific stop by De Gea. This followed a pinpoint Danjuma cross.
Moreno then blazed over following a cut back from a corner when he had ample time to hit the target.
Raphael Varane then made an error which allowed Alcacer to break clear, but he dragged his shot narrowly wide when he ought to have buried it in the net.
United had to wait until the 38th minute before registering a first goal attempt on target, but Pogba’s angled effort was easily saved by Geronimo Rulli.
Their best opening of the half came when Moreno almost found his own net as he tried to cut out a through ball from Pogba.
Villarreal had another chance just before the break when Yeremi Pino’s effort was well saved by De Gea.
There was no improvement after the restart and it was no surprise when Villarreal made a 53rd minute breakthrough.
It came with a counterattack which ended with Danjuma crossing for Alcacer to stab home at the near post from four yards. It was his fourth goal attempt of the game, two on target.
United were level on the hour, through an unlikely source, left back Telles.
Moreno was booked for a foul and Bruno Fernandes floated a free kick which was met by the sweetest of left-foot volleys from 25 yard which flew low to the left of Rulli.
It was Telles’ first goal for the Reds in his 26th appearance and only his second of this campaign.
Villarreal had made all five substitutions by the 73rd minute, then Solskjaer made his first two as Pogba and Jadon Sancho made way for Nemanja Matic and Edinson Cavani.
And Cavani was almost an immediate hero but headed narrowly wide at the far post from a perfect first-time cross by Greenwood.
Villarreal nearly regained the lead in the 87th minute when Moi Gomez was denied by De Gea and Boulaye Dia’s follow-up went wide as he was blocked by a combination of De Gea, Raphael Varane and Telles.
United brought on Jesse Lingard and Fred in the final minute for Mason Greenwood and Telles.
And Lingard almost put United ahead in the third of five added minutes when he got on the end of a Ronaldo cross but Rulli made a fine reaction save.
It looked as though that may have been United’s last chance until Ronaldo struck in the 95th minute.
Fred crossed from the left, Ronaldo headed goalwards and Lingard touched the ball back to the Portuguese forward who scored from a tight angle. Rulli got to the ball but could only divert it high into the roof of the net to spark wild celebrations, both on and off the field.