Manchester United 2 Galatasaray 3
Welcome to hell: Manchester United’s notorious introduction to Galatasaray from 1993 has a new twist. Back then, it was an away goals defeat in Istanbul that saw United knocked out of the Champions League, their players knocked about by the local constabulary during a post-match fight in the tunnel.
Here, it was a continuation of the agonies of the season, Erik ten Hag’s players doing plenty to raise the hopes of their fans, particularly Rasmus Højlund, who twice put them in front, his second a beautiful mix of pace from the halfway line and composure in front of goal.
How United destroyed them. Not only did they reinforce the notion that they are never more vulnerable these days than when they are ahead, they offered a masterclass in how not to defend, the concessions getting more and more brutal to leave their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread.
It was bad enough to see how Wilfried Zaha was allowed to muscle in to make it 1-1 in the first half. The second equaliser, scored by the excellent Kerem Akturkoglu, was worse, the substitute, Baris Alper Yilmaz allowed to canter through to square for his team-mate.
There was another horror moment for the unconvincing André Onana, a dreadful pass out straight to the substitute, Dries Meertens, who was fouled inside the box by the chasing Casemiro, who was sent off. Mauro Icardi drilled the penalty wide but there would be no reprieve for a United team that defended as haplessly as this.
There were 81 minutes on the clock when Davinson Sánchez sent a simple header forward, United’s defensive line was in tatters and Icardi eased through to beat Onana. The full-time whistle was the prompt for frustration and more Old Trafford boos.
Galatasaray had brought an unbeaten record for the season to Old Trafford and, of course, a few thousand of their diehards, who appeared intent on making it feel like a home fixture for them. They started to bellow their anthems a good hour before kick-off. There would be little let-up from them.
United needed a good start. Nobody in the stands wanted to consider how the evening might go if they conceded first. Happily for Ten Hag, he saw his team open with energy and intent – and he felt his hopes surge when Højlund broke the deadlock. It was a firm header from Marcus Rashford’s cross after Casemiro had got United moving with a punt up the inside right.
It is probably a measure of the unease around Old Trafford right now that there was a collective groan when it was announced that VAR was checking the goal. Had Rashford gone too early? The crowd could exhale when the answer was no. Højlund was too much in front of goal for his marker, Sánchez.
Galatasaray’s ranks were studded with former Premier League players and even the manager, Okan Buruk, had a backstory with United. He was in charge of Istanbul Basaksehir when they beat United in the 2020- 21 group stage; a tie made infamous by how United allowed Demba Ba to run unchallenged to score the opening goal.
It was possible to feel a few ghosts in the early running when Hannibal Mejbri was dispossessed by Akturkoglu after a failed United short corner and the Galatasaray midfielder ran virtually the length of the field before the chance was snuffed out.
Højlund looked purposeful. He had teed up Bruno Fernandes at the outset – the United captain sent a side-foot wide – while Mejbri needed a better touch on a chipped Casemiro pass. At 1-0, Mason Mount released Højlund and he was close to dribbling around the goalkeeper, Fernando Muslera.
United remained brittle. They had a platform but they quickly saw it crumble. It just had to be Zaha with the equaliser. “Look at my face, am I bothered?” he had practically said on Monday when asked to reflect on his unhappy spell at United. He was certainly exercised after watching his shot hit Diogo Dalot, bounce down and loop up and in, cupping his ears to the United support.
It was an ugly goal to let in because Zaha simply should not have been permitted to get that far. Sánchez’s long ball from the back was allowed to bounce once and then again as Zaha got his body in between him and Dalot. The finish was undercut but fortunate. Zaha made his own luck by being stronger in the one-on-one than Dalot.
Mount saw a shot deflect over on the half-hour after a neat move that was sparked by Højlund and Mount, again, went close before the interval, his effort this time hitting his own team-mate – Mejbri – in front of goal. United had to be better.
It was an open game and it was possible to feel that it was there for United to seize. They needed greater clarity in the final third, more precision with the last action. And yet it was also easy to fear that Ten Hag’s team could be unhinged at the back. Casemiro was not always on top of Akturkoglu. Did Zaha have another moment in him?
Rashford’s lack of confidence has been a theme in recent weeks; there were one or two groans when he took bad decisions here – and especially in the 53rd minute. Christian Eriksen, on as a substitute, released him with a wonderful pass as United broke but, instead of going for goal, Rashford waited for Fernandes and tried to square to him. It was telegraphed, the execution poor. Sacha Boey got back to clear.
United pushed, creating more and more chances. The crowd responded. Højlund had the ball in the net only to be pulled back for offside. The grandstand finish loomed. – Guardian