Cristiano Ronaldo netted a 95th minute winner as Manchester United came from behind to snatch victory against an impressive Villarreal side in the Champions League on Wednesday night.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made four changes from the side that slipped up against Aston Villa on Saturday, albeit with three-quarters of those enforced alterations, having lost Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire to injury, while fellow defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka also missed out through suspension.
That left the hosts with something of a makeshift and untested backline for the visit of their Europa League final opponents and they were almost caught out on two occasions in the opening ten minutes, former Bournemouth man Arnaut Danjuma twice denied by David De Gea after cutting in off the left.
The Spaniard was again on hand to tip Paco Alcacer’s header over the crossbar after more good work down the left from the increasingly dangerous Danjuma, before a rare lapse in concentration from Raphael Varane allowed Alcacer in on goal, only for the striker to drag his effort wide.
The hosts did improve as the half wore on, yet struggled to fashion any real openings, while Unai Emery’s side continued to look a threat on the break, with De Gea largely to thank for keeping the score goalless heading in at half-time.
The La Liga side did eventually get the goal they had well and truly deserved just after the interval, that man Danjuma teeing up Alcacer who flicked home past a helpless De Gea from close range.
That goal appeared to spark United into life as they hit back just minutes later, Bruno Fernandes teeing up Alex Telles with a delightful and inventive free-kick, with the Brazilian firing home superbly on the volley for his first goal for the club.
The home side were on the front foot from then on but couldn’t find that pivotal second goal, while at the other end there was some defensive desperation as a mixture of De Gea and Telles scrambled to deny substitute Boulaye Dia who looked certain to score.
With the game entering into the closing stages, it looked to be petering out for yet another draw between the two sides, before the inevitable Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up to snatch a winner in the fifth minute of injury time, the Portugal international firing it in at the backpost after a neat layoff from substitute Jesse Lingard.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) September 29, 2021
That dramatic victory brings to an end United’s recent poor form at Old Trafford and kickstarts their European campaign, with captain on the day Fernandes hailing the ‘unbelievable’ home fans in helping push them towards the win.
“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,” Fernandes told BT Sport.
”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.
“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 [Telles] the push from the fans was unbelievable. Some amazing saves from David [De Gea] to keep the score at 1-1. Then at the end… 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.”
United’s final game prior to the international break sees them once again at home, as they take on in-form Everton on Saturday afternoon.