BY CIARAN CONNEELY, SPORTS STAFFER.
Manchester United was able to get revenge on Spanish side Villarreal on Wednesday night in the UEFA Champions League. This was a rematch of the UEFA Europa League final on May 26, in which Manchester United heartbreakingly lost to the Yellow Submarine (famous nickname of Villareal) in a penalty shootout. However, the Red Devils were able to flip the script tonight, claiming a wild 2-1 win thanks to an extra-time winner from their iconic player, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Pressure ran through Manchester United to claim all three points against Villareal, after a shocking 2-1 defeat at the hands of underdogs, BSC Young Boys on September 14th. To make matters worse, United came into the match with a two-game losing streak in all competitions, with scrutiny increased on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. To pile on even more pressure, the club had a losing streak against Spanish teams in the Champions League, starting with a 1-0 loss to Real Sociedad back in 2013.
The first half was one to forget for the Red Devils, as they saw Villarreal create the best chances. Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea was called into action four times in the half, repelling Villarreal’s four shots on target. The first half of the game ended 0-0, with a sense of uneasiness growing among the fans in attendance at Old Trafford (Manchester United’s stadium). While the Reds controlled the game with possession, Villareal had the clear-cut chances, and deserved the lead.
Unfortunately for Manchester United, the start of the second half didn’t bear fruit for them. In the 53rd minute of the game, Villarreal took the lead, courtesy of striker Paco Alcacer. The Reds were shorthanded at the back, and the Yellow Submarine made them pay. Villarreal played a series of nice passes before Arnaut Danjuma drove in a cross that was fired into the back of the net by Alcacer. Villarreal made Manchester United pay for their repeated errors in defense.
Several minutes later United responded by winning a free kick outside of Villarreal’s penalty box. Bruno Fernandes cleverly crossed the ball to left-back Alex Telles, who scored a cracking volley goal from outside the box to tie the game. It was a special moment for Telles, as it was his first goal for the club. Telles’ leveler opened up the game, as both teams went back and forth looking for the winner. Both managers made several changes to their sides, seeking the clinching goal.
However, as the game progressed, it looked like Manchester United would have to settle for a draw at home. That all changed in the 95th minute of the game. Bruno Fernandes played a clever pass to Fred, who then whipped a ball into the penalty box. Villarreal failed to clear their lines, and after a quick combination between Cristiano Ronaldo and Jesse Lingard, Ronaldo pounded home the game-winning goal. Old Trafford erupted as its icon saved it once again. With this goal, “Mr. Champions League” takes his tally to 13 goals against Villarreal.
This was Manchester United’s first win of their 2021/2022 Champions League campaign, putting them in third place in their group. With four match weeks left in the group stage, United must finish either first or second in the group to advance to the knockout stages.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was quoted praising David de Gea, saying, “And thankfully we had the best goalkeeper in the world tonight.” reacting to the Spaniard’s fine outing in goal. After making six great saves to keep his team in the game, de Gea was voted Manchester United’s Man of the Match award.
Manchester United return to action on Saturday, as they host Everton in the Premier League, looking to bounce back after an abysmal loss to Aston Villa on September 25th. The Reds will want to build on their victory against Villarreal and start a winning streak. Consistency has evaded the team for many years, and they have a grueling schedule in October. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will need to adjust to keep their ambitions of winning the Premier League alive.