Football clubs like to talk about culture, about DNA, about a coherent top-down philosophy. Well, there you have it. Welcome to Manchester United, a club in a state of chaos, that has at least found its authentic self in these midweek adventures. Not so much the steady accumulators of the league programme, but the drunken pirate ship of the Champions League campaign, a vessel of chaos that was present again in a thrilling, occasionally high-class performance in Istanbul, albeit one shot through with moments of startling incompetence.
A 3-3 draw with Galatasaray means United no longer “control their own destiny” in Group A. Albeit this does feel like the wrong cliche. When has this United team ever given the impression of controlling its destiny, or indeed controlling anything at all during this mildly hallucinogenic group‑stage campaign?
There was at least a clear sense of narrative structure, a recurring motif in the chaos of a draw snatched from the jaws of victory. Unfortunately that recurring constant was the sight of André Onana diving over a Hakim Ziyech free‑kick not once but twice, and doing so with a striking sense of symmetry, a man always crashing in the same car.
On 27 minutes, having already made one and scored one as United romped into a 2-0 lead, Bruno Fernandes produced a Ronaldo-style performative defensive sprint, which ended with a foul on Ziyech. The free‑kick was skimmed straight at Onana, who stepped one way, tried to come back the other, and ended up producing an impressively agile flip-dive over the top of the shot as it zinged into the net behind him, not so much a miss or a fumble as a man very skilfully avoiding any contact with the ball.
Sixteen minutes into the second half the same sequence of events occurred. Fernandes ran back and fouled Ziyech. Ziyech spotted the free-kick and whipped it straight at Onana, who again dived out of the way, this time simultaneously trying to palm the ball up the space where his foot had been, a genuinely weird interpretation of the physical mechanics of stopping a ball, goalkeeping, or indeed doing anything at all.
Onana had produced the same error against Bayern Munich, just as United seemed comfortable in that game. It seems an odd thing to have to work on. Don’t dive out of the way. This feels basic. Should I dive out of the way? No. Don’t dive out of the way.
In fairness Onana also made some fine saves in this game. Late in the first half he produced an astonishing swivel and pass in the centre circle, pirouetting about with a startling degree of freedom and verve in the middle of all that madness, Glenn Hoddle on acid.
But of course, the game will always turn on these details, which are simply details, but also not really details, but a part of a looming superstructure. Why has the goalkeeper of the Champions League last season become a howling, cartwheeling mess a year on?
Welcome to Manchester United, a place where the starting point is ill-fitting parts, in this case a high‑risk goalkeeper who works in a certain system, but who will obviously not find that system in place, who will have centre-backs who want to stand deep in his spaces, and who will find himself trying to perform his bespoke high‑wire act in perhaps the most disorientating environment in world football.
Who could have guessed that there might be bumps in the road. This isn’t luck, or poor form. It’s a fully realised world of half‑cooked plans, of almost-but-not-quite. It is in its own way deeply coherent and predicable, a case of cause and effect. Out of a background of chaos I will bring more chaos, chaos that stretches back up the hand, down the arm and into the very heart of this machine.
United had seemed to be coasting in this game. The opening goal was finished brilliantly by Alejandro Garnacho, Erik ten Hag’s semi‑protege, and made by some fine interplay between Fernandes, Ten Hag’s maligned captain, and Rasmus Højlund, Ten Hag’s beat‑the‑bank centre‑forward. Højlund was powerful and precise in his link play. The final pass from Fernandes was high-class, a moment of clarity in the middle of all that ambient noise. Garnacho spanked it into the top corner.
Fernandes made it 2-0 with a delicious dipping right‑foot shot spanked on the run into the top corner, a Beckham-ish kind of goal, the kind of goal that looks so simple in outline you wonder why he doesn’t just do it all the time.
But of course the weaknesses were there, too. Whenever Harry Maguire was isolated he looked lost, whirling about like a Dalek stuck between flights of stairs. Fernandes had a wonderful game, but also a game shot with moments of head-clutching misfortune. Somehow United didn’t win it at the death despite generating a series of chances that seemed harder to miss than to score. By which point even the crowd seemed a little baffled at all this. Hell? Chaos? Uproar? We’ve got you covered. - Guardian
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