Cristiano Ronaldo rescues United at the death against Villarreal

Manchester United end their losing run with win over La Liga side at Old Trafford

 Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring the winning goal at Old Trafford. Photograph: Peter Powell/Inpho

Cristiano Ronaldo after scoring the winning goal at Old Trafford. Photograph: Peter Powell/Inpho

 

Manchester United 2 Villarreal 1

What a finish, and guess who: Cristiano Ronaldo bundled home to score an added time winner and maybe jump-start Manchester United’s season. With Atalanta beating Young Boys to lead Group F, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team are now up and running with three points.

Again, though, United seemed dazed in defence and dizzy in attack, lacking composure where it matters. This should be of deep concern to Solskjær. His side currently resemble a kick-and-chase schoolboy proposition which can be found out at any moment.

Still, the result arrests a run of three reverses in four outings and the Norwegian can build on it with Everton here on Saturday.

The all-time head-to-head showed five draws and no wins for either team in normal play, Villarreal victorious in the Europa League final in May via penalty shootout – 11-10. Factor in Unai Emery’s side going undefeated since the Uefa Super Cup defeat against Chelsea in August (again by spot-kicks) in a sequence of one win and seven draws, with only five goals conceded, and another share of the spoils appeared to be a decent wager.

For the unavailable Aaron Wan-Bissaka (suspended), Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw (each injured) Solskjær drafted in Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelöf and Alex Telles in a back four behind a midfield in which the – dreaded, for some fans – McFred partnership was broken up, the manager plumping for the McPob of Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba.

Solskjær blamed the defeat against Aston Villa on Saturday on the quaint reason of attacking too fast yet in a lame opening period any attack was a kind of hurtle at 110mph, in which Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Telles, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pogba careered about and had a plan more akin to the playground than elite club.

United were being turned at will by Villarreal, too. Arnaut Danjuma galloped into space along the left and took aim at David de Gea who punched away. Further holes were punched when Danjuma sold Dalot a prize dummy, the Dutchman’s subsequent effort tipped away by the already busy De Gea. Manuel Trigueros was next to enjoy prime United space as neither McTominay nor Pogba tracked him and so Paco Alcácer was released, his unload being blocked.

This all meant United were resembling the side that lost against Villa: a collection of players rather than a team with a firm base and a clue. At this juncture a goalless draw felt a foolish bet – there had been four between the opponents – as Emery’s men continued the bombardment. Dalot, once more, was left spinning by Danjuma whose whipped-in cross was headed toward goal before De Gea saved United.

Those in red were unable to take and hold possession. The best they managed was the odd burst in which, say, Greenwood fed Pogba and a ball was swung towards the lurking Ronaldo only for it to be intercepted, as happened on the half-hour.

The resounding notes from the crowd were of deep groans and there were plenty when Raphaël Varane missed a simple tackle and Alcácer was darting in, an instant effort going wide. Attack-at-will seemed to be United’s message to their visitors, so lax were they. Alcácer next broke and pushed the ball wide to Yeremi Pino and moments later the latter had De Gea saving low.

The closest United came to an opener before the break was when Alberto Moreno nearly turned a Pogba chip past Gerónimo Rulli for an own goal: a neat summation of how feeble Solskjær’s side were.

Confidence and skill were lacking: when Telles fell over the ball this was a dismal augury. At this stage United would surely snatch at a draw and first point, a perverse analysis considering they were at home, to a mid-ranking La Liga opponent yet to win a match.

Even this prospect seemed distant when Villarreal ripped them apart along Dalot’s flank, as Trigueros relayed to Danjuma whose ping in was hit home by Alcácer. Cue a stunned United faithful who could not, though, be shocked. This had been coming all night.

But United soon equalised and how. Fernandes floated a free-kick over from the right to Telles who, from outside the area, volleyed clean past Rulli into the corner. Next, Sancho – twice – might have given them a lead but he stumbled.

For United this remained too open a contest. Pino could fashion a lob that had United scrambling, then Boulaye Dia somehow missed from close range towards the end.

Having introduced Edinson Cavani before this, the No 21 spurned a golden chance to head the winner. Yet if United were more potent with the Uruguayan on – they enjoyed a late flurry – Solskjær still has to fix the powder-puff element that runs throughout the team. - Guardian

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