Manchester United turned back the time to put in one of their most impressive European performances in a decade, beating Juventus by two goals to one in Turin.
During the pre-match build-up, Man Utd legend turned pundit, Rio Ferdinand, said that if United played as they did in the first match at Old Trafford, they would get ‘spanked,’ but the boys from Manchester didn’t even drop their pants.
After being wholly outclassed at Old Trafford, Jose Mourinho reacted by stiffening up his midfield, choosing to deploy Ander Herrera in the anchor role, allowing Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic to operate further upfield.
With the injured Romelu Lukaku left in Manchester, Mourinho choose to play with Alexis Sanchez down the middle, and his industry, link up play and ability to keep the ball, meant that Juventus couldn’t dominate the game as they had done a few weeks earlier.
And they needed to keep the ball.
Juventus was 7/10 to win this tie, and qualify for the knockout phase with two games to spare and with good cause. They had won all three previous Champions League group games without conceding a goal and had won ten of their opening 11 games in Serie A, with only Genoa taking any points from the Old Lady with a draw.
United hadn’t played in Italy for eight years, but they looked more than comfortable, quietening the crowd with their control of the football, and they had the first chance when Sanchez nearly got on the end of a Matic chip after a period of keep ball from the team in blue.
But for all of United’s industry in the first half they never looked like scoring, and from 30-minutes onwards Juventus found their way into the game. David De Gea, who was celebrating his 28th birthday, made a world class save to deny Juventus the lead after a Juan Cuadrado shot deflected wickedly off the shins of Matic. And then Sami Khedira hit the post, after being set up by Cristiano Ronaldo, but United made it to half time without conceding, making them the first side to do so this season.
The second half began much the same as the first, with both sides having an equal share of the football, but with Juventus looking the more likely to break the back of the net.
And then came the chances.
The first came on 50-minutes when the United defence afforded Paulo Dybala too much room on the right, and the cherubic-looking star cut inside to curl a wicked one onto the top of the bar.
And then came the goal.
And what a goal it was.
Leonardo Bonucci picked the ball up inside the United half, looked up and saw Ronaldo breaking away from Chris Smalling. Bonucci sent the ball soaring through the air, and Ronaldo allowed it to drop over his shoulder before smashing it past De Gea on the volley. It was his first Champions League goal since joining the Italians, and his 120th of all time.
United reacted well after the goal, but Juventus pressed their foot on the gas and created a glut of chances. First Miralem Pjanić had a couple of opportunities, one denied by De Gea and the other sent fizzing wide, and then a clear-cut chance for Cuadrado, who skied it after being set up by Ronaldo.
Juventus was in command.
United never looked like scoring.
Mourinho needed to change things.
Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford came on for Jesse Lingard, and Alexis Sanchez and the results were immediate. A confident looking Marcus Rashford shot just wide from long distance, and Anthony Martial cut in from the left to produce a save from Wojciech Szczęsny.
Then with four minutes remaining, United put together a beautifully intricate move on the edge of the Juventus box resulting in Blaise Matuidi fouling Pogba, and Mata curled in a glorious free-kick to even the tie.
With Valencia beating Young Boys 3-1 to move ahead of United into the second qualifying spot before this tie, a point became an incredible result for United knowing they would have to visit the Mestalla in their final group game needing a win had they not picked it up.
But United wasn’t content with one.
Less than three minutes had passed since the equaliser when Ashley Young curled in a free kick from the left, Marouane Fellaini was a nuisance in the air, Szczęsny failed to deal with it, and the ball ended up in the net off the shoulder of Bonucci under pressure from Pogba.
United had stolen it, and it could have easily been three when Martial and Rashford broke through on goal in injury time only for Szczęsny to save from Rashford right at the death.
The defeat was Juventus’s second in the Champions League group stages in the past 15-years, or 34 Champions League games.
It was the perfect tonic for United, who move two points ahead of Valencia, and only trail Juventus by the same margin, with two games to play. The bookies make them a 1/12 shot to join Juventus in the Round of 16, with Valencia dropping back to 7/2.
The Best of the Rest
Manchester City remains the 7/2 favourite to win the Champions League outright after putting six past Shakhtar Donetsk at The Etihad. Gabriel Jesus scored a hat trick, and David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez scored the other three. Pep Guardiola’s side will have to wait to secure qualification though after 1899 Hoffenheim secured a 2-2 draw in Lyon with the last kick of the game.
City wasn’t the only side thundering goals past their opponents. The reigning champions, Real Madrid, managed to put their recent run of poor form behind them to record a 5-0 win against Plzeñ. Karim Benzema scored twice, and goals from Gareth Bale, Casemiro and Toni Kroos rounded that one out. The result sees them lead Group G on goal difference from Roma who beat 10-man CSKA Moscow in Russia 2-1.
Bayern Munich is almost sure to qualify for the next stage after a two-nil win over AEK. The Germans move two points clear of Ajax, and six clear of Benfica after those two teams played out a 1-1 draw in Portugal. Robert Lewandowski picked up both of the goals in Bayern’s win.
Valencia 3 v 1 Young Boys
CSKA Moscow 1 v 2 Roma
Man City 6 v 0 Shakhtar Donetsk
Lyon 2 v 2 Hoffenheim
Plzeñ 0 v 5 Real Madrid
Juventus 1 v 2 Man Utd
Benfica 1 v 1 Ajax
Bayern Munich 2 v 0 Ajax
1. Bayern – 10
2. Ajax – 8
3. Benfica – 4
4. AEK – 0
Group Winner Odds
1. Man City – 9
2. Lyon – 6
3. Hoffenheim – 3
4. Shakhtar Donetsk – 2
Group Winner Odds
Man City 1/20
1. Real Madrid – 9
2. Roma – 9
3. CSKA Moscow – 4
4. Plzeñ – 1
Group G Winner Odds
Real Madrid 1/3
Group H Winner Odds
1. Juventus – 9
2. Man Utd – 7
3. Valencia – 5
Young Boys – 1
Group H Winner Odds
Man Utd 4/1
Champions League Winner Outright
Man City 7/2
Bayern Munich 9/1
Real Madrid 10/1