Man Utd 2- CSKA 1 UNITED CRUISE INTO UCL R16
For Manchester United, It marked a return to the prestigious level of Champions League knockout football and, in the process, some sign of the indomitability they used to display on this ground. Their unbeaten run here extends to 40 games. Not since the Matt Busby days of the mid-1960s have they been able to say that.
It wasn’t a tour de force. There was profligacy in the first half and punishment for it when they trailed against the run of play at half-time. Winning Group A also brings no guarantees, as any one of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Juventus or Porto — all second-place finishers — could lie ahead in Monday’s draw.
However the turnaround — two goals in 65 seconds just beyond the hour — was quite beautiful in its execution and it was the impact on preparations for Manchester City, four days away, which consumed every United fan’s mind
Jose Mourinho had got his first dig in on City before he left the building, pointedly pledging he had told ‘all the truth’ about who was fit for Sunday, unlike Pep Guardiola.
Marcus Rashford was seconds into his own discussion of this match when he spoke of ‘the game at the weekend’. The ‘momentum’ word immediately cropped up. Both Rashford and Romelu Lukaku badly needed the decisive goals they scored.
There are clues that Mourinho worries for Lukaku’s self-confidence. The manager’s theatrical applause for the forward when he missed a good first-half chance was a sign that he feels the Belgian needs love and he was also uncharacteristically effusive about him afterwards. He can score and feel that happiness that strikers only feel when they score,’ said Mourinho. ‘I’m happy for him, not for me.’
Rashford in action
Lukaku, who had scored one goal in 12 games, needed three bounces of the ball before putting his foot to it when Paul Pogba had sent him through in the first half, which was enough time for Igor Akinfeev to ready himself and save.
However he buried a second-half volley from a ball clipped in by Pogba before Rashford allowed a lofted ball from Juan Mata to bounce once and put it into the right-hand corner of the net.
Rashford hadn’t scored in nine games and suffered the bad luck of a striker desperate to break such a sequence when he ran on to Lukaku’s reverse pass and sent it against the base of the post with his left foot, but the quality of his movement in the left-hand side of the penalty area, where he found so much space, seemed significant ahead of Sunday.
Luke Shaw returned for Man united last night
If one moment encapsulated what Luke Shaw brought in the first half it was the sight of him making up a yard of ground to catch the advancing Vitinho and put the ball out of play.
He moved forwards at pace, too, and was one of Mourinho’s early attacking threats, volleying an Antonio Valencia cross-shot that Akinfeev smartly saved after 20 minutes.
United came to rue their profligacy when the Russians conjured a highly controversial goal on the stroke of half-time.
Shaw erred for the first time, being drawn towards the ball and allowing Mario Fernandes to escape down the right flank and cross. Fedor Chalov missed his shot but Vitinho’s strike cannoned in off Alan Dzagoev’s back. United insisted the forward was offside though Daley Blind, who had stumbled out of play, was still active, thus playing him on.
FIFA rules state that a ‘defending player’ — Blind — who leaves the field ‘without the referee’s permission’ is deemed to be ‘on the goal line or touchline for the purposes of offside until the next stoppage in play.’
United did not flinch, with goals just beyond the hour, and CSKA were eliminated at the hands of Basle. Mourinho’s side might not be the most naturally creative within these shores but have rediscovered that capacity to get the job done. ‘Teams will not be jumping with happiness to play against us. They will not,’ Mourinho reflected. He was right.