Manchester United really need to learn how to hold onto a lead, but we hope they never do after another brilliant Champions League game aided by a very weird goalkeeper.
“Silenced!” Darren Fletcher exclaimed after Alejandro Garnacho opened the scoring for Manchester United. For about a second there was silence, before the Galatasaray hubbub returned, as loud as ever. It’s rare that the noise is such that it’s difficult to write about a game of football, let alone play in it.
“Silenced!” Rio Ferdinand said seven minutes later, just about heard over the continuing whistling after Bruno Fernandes doubled the lead. The TNT Sports folk were desperate for United to literally silence the crowd, rather than being content with two brilliant goals worthy of fingers on lips celebrations even if the reality was more goddamn whistling.
Fernandes rose to the occasion. He was the architect of the first, playing a lovely one-two with Rasmus Hojlund before a nutmeg assist for Garnacho, then strode forward to slap a dipping shot into the top corner to give United what should have been a comfortable lead, if they had any game management smarts to speak of. They don’t though, so it wasn’t.
Wilfried Zaha, Angelino and Sacha Boey were having a whale of a time running in behind the United full-backs, who were fortunate that the crosses came to nothing. Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka continued to push on despite their lead, while Garnacho and Antony, over-buoyed by United’s fast start, focused solely on attacking – as is their wont – when helping out the defenders on their flanks should have been the centre of their attention.
It’s not as though they needed to park the bus, just staying in their positions for a while would have been good enough. Fernandes conceded the free-kick that Hakim Ziyech scored from, making a 70-yard dash back to his own goal to challenge a player that wouldn’t have had the space to run into had Scott McTominay been in the right place.
They were playing as though a dramatic goal-difference swing was required on top of a victory, apparently unaware that a useful method to silence a crowd as well as scoring goals is to bore them into shutting up.
It made for a wonderful game though. United’s slightly Big Ange-esque ‘give it a go, mate’ approach saw McTominay bursting into the box to put them two goals up again before another Champions League howler from Andre Onana. In fact, United would have been three clear without their goalkeeper’s errors. He took a step to his left to give himself no chance of saving Ziyech’s first free kick, then let the former Chelsea man’s second bobble up off his gloves and into the net behind him. The ‘best’ Premier League goalkeeper has had a Champions League campaign to forget.
He’s a very weird goalkeeper in almost all aspects: guessing where the shots are going to go; strolling around with the ball at his feet; punching rather than palming. It can make him look very good, but also, as we’ve seen a fair bit in his debut season, very silly.
The got-to-cover-the-near-post nonsense will likely be out in force on social media after Galatasaray’s third, particularly given the neatness of being able to blame all three goals on one man, but Onana wasn’t at fault for Kerem Akturkoglu’s stunning equaliser, which saw him masterfully control Ziyech’s whipped pass into his feet before smashing the ball into the top corner. United’s goals took some beating, but that would have bettered all but another Garnacho madness.
Things got even more bonkers in the last 20 minutes. With Galatasaray roared on by the home crowd and United in desperate need of a winner ahead of Bayern Munich at Old Trafford, neither team could help but attack, to the comical detriment of their respective defences. But Rio Ferdinand’s groans, which rose to coital levels as Facundo Pellistri missed a gilt-edged chance, never ended in climax, and Robbie Savage’s insistence that “there’s a winner here for United” were as erroneous as they were in the defeat to Copenhagen.
They led 2-0 and 3-2 in this game, 1-0 and 2-1 in the 3-2 defeat to the same opponents Old Trafford and 2-0 and 3-2 in the 4-3 defeat in Copenhagen. As neutrals we’re completely on board with it.
United have, if anything, been a bit dull in the Premier League of late, but they’re great fun in the Champions League. But fun sees them on the verge of being dumped out of the competition, because at the points when they’ve got themselves ahead with some brilliant football, they’ve failed to recognise the need for pragmatism; to silence the unsilenceable.