Manchester United snatched a memorable victory when first Juan Mata’s late free-kick then Alex Sandro’s even later own goal cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo’s superb precise volley to give José Mourinho’s men great heart before Sunday’s derby with Manchester City
Ronaldo – as his right – had celebrated scoring against his former team but so, too, could Mourinho’s men: this was a win that is the latest in what is a resurgence under the Portuguese that began with last month’s come-from-behind victory over Newcastle United.
Mourinho made two changes from Saturday’s win at Bournemouth. In came Ander Herrrera and Jesse Lingard for Fred and Marcus Rashford, each of whom were replacements.
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For Juventus Blaise Matuidi and Joao Cancelo missed out from the meeting two weeks ago, Massimiliano Allegri dropping them to the bench for Mattia De Sciglio and Sami Khedira.
Mourinho summarised this fourth Group H game as a quasi-free hit due to second place still being in United’s hands if they lost. Yet he surely gave his players the opposite instruction privately ahead of them walking out into an Allianz Stadium that had been neon-lit lit as part of the pre-match show.
They began with Nemanja Matic spraying the ball into space along the right and Ashley Young finding Alexis Sánchez inside the area. This broke down yet it was along this flank that United again moved forward with Sánchez – operating at No 9 – flipping a clever ball out to Young once more. The right-back’s cross was wild and Juventus soon had a corner after Ronaldo’s shot was deflected out.
An urgent opening continued when Sánchez and Lingard broke down the left and only a disappointing pass from the latter halted United progress.
This was certainly a far brighter opening half showing from Mourinho’s men that in recent outings. Juve were prepared to concede time and space for their visitors to knock the ball around which allowed them to settle.
A more conventional rhythm now settled over the contest. Build-up became more methodical, patience the leitmotif. A Ronaldo flick-on, a Sánchez free-kick provided intermittent moments of attack-play as the teams teased openings out.
This spell was broken when Victor Lindelof skied a regulation clearance near his area and the error was compounded by the ball being allowed to bounce, so ceding it to Paulo Dybala.
United were as relieved to scramble clear as Juventus were when Matic’s clever lobbed pass into Sánchez narrowly failed to deliver.
Yet it was from the Chilean’s free-kick moments later that Juve fashioned a break: Luke Shaw missed the ball and suddenly Juan Cuadrado was blazing at David De Gea, who parried and collected.
When Shaw was beaten for a second occasion – down Juve’s right – Cuadrado’s shot pinged off Matic and this time De Gea’s save had to be sharp and was.
Juve had upped their game and United were clinging on. Ronaldo was free enough to find Sami Khedira and the No 6 saw his effort ricochet from De Gea’s right post.
The period ended with the same player’s free-kick being hacked away for a corner and Pogba hitting straight at Wojciech Szczesny and when the referee, Ovidiu Hategan, blew for the break it was United who welcomed what was much required succour.
A case of so-far so-good for United continued when the second half started with Mourinho’s men attacking via an Anthony Martial shot that missed to the left of Szczesny. Dybala showed better though not telling precision when his shot crashed back off De Gea’s bar, the goalkeeper quite correctly furious with a defence that gave the Argentinian too long to take aim.
After a brief cessation for a Young injury the captain could continue, his problem coming when a sliding tackle launched a United attack in which Pogba’s final ball let him and the side down.
Juve were far more menacing when in on their opponent’s goal as Miralem Pjanic again illustrated with a surge down the right that had United back-pedalling.
Again a neat United approach involving Lingard and Sánchez foundered when the centre-forward’s back-heel proved wasteful. Still two successive corners a few seconds later was at least time spent at the right end of the pitch.
It was in the 65th minute that Ronaldo pounced.
Leonardo Bonucci floated a ball over United’s defence and the on-rushing Portuguese’s strike rocketed beyond a helpless De Gea.
Juve came close to doubling the lead when De Gea repelled a Pjanic shot and Cuadrado hit wastefully towards the end.