Cristiano Ronaldo’s 178th Champions League record had been one of his quietest for 94 minutes until the ball gently shattered to break Villarreal’s heart at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
The returning Manchester United hero came to the rescue just in time to salvage a 2-1 win from another performance that casts more doubt on where the Red Devils are heading under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Norwegian badly needed three points after a three-game losing streak and got it just a few seconds ahead.
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However, Solskjaer conceded that United “got lucky” and were “saved” by goalkeeper David de Gea as Villarreal took advantage of the overwhelming majority of chances.
The difference between the parties was who was at the end of these opportunities.
De Gea denied Arnaut Danjuma, Paco Alcacer, Moi Gomez and Boulaye Dia on either side of Alcacer’s deserved opening game for the visitors in the 53rd minute.
Alex Telles’ spectacular strike from a distance quickly restored parity, but it wasn’t until half an hour later that the Champions League all-time top scorer took center stage.
“Cristiano Ronaldo only had one chance and, well, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Villarreal defender Juan Foyth, who had silenced United’s most expensive summer signing Jadon Sancho, all the while. the night.
The arrival of Sancho and Raphael Varane in the transfer window had already raised expectations at United this season ahead of Ronaldo’s stunning second coming to Manchester.
In Ronaldo’s five games since returning to the club, he has scored five times. But he’s also been on the losing side twice before and two more times United needed late winners to get out of trouble.
A 2-1 loss to Swiss champions Young Boys on Matchday 1 left the English giants with another embarrassing early exit from the Champions League if they had failed to win.
“I made history at this club and I want to do it again,” said Ronaldo, who won his first of five Champions League titles during a six-year stint at United between 2003 and 2009.
âIf we hadn’t got three points today, it would have been difficult to take the next step. But now everything is possible for us, everything is open and we believe that we can move on. United are tied at three points with Young Boys, one behind Group F leaders Atalanta.
– ‘Best goalkeeper in the world’ –
However, the fact that there is even no doubt about United’s progress in the last 16 speaks volumes about Solskjaer’s inability so far this season to make the most of a stellar cast.
Ronaldo, Sancho, Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba all started in an attacking team selection.
But Villarreal easily cut through the United midfielder on the counterattack to expose a defense missing the presence of three of the top four picks due to injuries to Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, and the suspension of Aaron Wan. -Bissaka.
“Fortunately we had the best goalkeeper in the world tonight,” said Solskjaer. “David was fantastic.”
The United boss continued to unload his artillery from the bench as Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard were sent in search of a winner.
And finally, the depth of the home side’s talent paid off as Lingard calmly rolled the ball down Ronaldo’s path to crush his 136th Champions League goal as Old Trafford erupted.
âWhat a game @ManUtd. Epic winner by @Cristiano,â tweeted Usain Bolt, who was watching from the stands.
But it was a no-release card for Solskjaer.
And it saves him time rather than justifying his credentials to bring United back to the status they enjoyed during Ronaldo’s first stint at the club under Alex Ferguson.