Manchester fell to a narrow loss in Group H of the Champions League, falling 1-0 at home to Juventus. Paulo Dybala scored the game winner in the first half.
Once upon a time, an up-and-coming United team measured their progress in Europe against the class of Juventus. As it was in the 90s, it may well be again today. Juventus are one of the favorites to win the Champions League, while United — on current form — will do well to qualify for next year’s competition. José Mourinho showed no signs of any inferiority complex though, and kept faith with the attacking lineup that performed so well against Chelsea at the weekend.
Even in their recent encouraging performances, United’s defending has failed to improve along with their attack. And after a fairly even first sixteen minutes, that fragile backline was exposed yet again. Cristiano Ronaldo was able to get a low across into the box in front the defending Anthony Martial. Chris Smalling was removed from the equation by the onrushing Juan Cuadrado, and somehow no one tracked Paulo Dybala arriving from midfield. The Argentine playmaker slotted the deflected cross into the net with no United player anywhere near him.
The goal only emboldened Juventus, who then really started taking control of the game. Minuted after the opener, David de Gea had to make a save at full stretch to deny Ronaldo. The bianconeri were now dominating possession, and it wasn’t until past the half hour mark that the shell-shocked home side threatened for the first time. Martial and Marcus Rashford in particular were driving at the Juventus defense.
Even in this period, though, the visitors were still dangerous. United were in the ascendancy, but only another pair of sharp saves from De Gea at the other end kept out a Ronaldo free-kick and a Blaise Matuidi volley. United finished the first half on the front foot, but were in no doubt about Juventus’ threat.
The Reds started the second half as they finished the first. Twice in the space of a few minutes, Martial penetrated his way into the box from his wide left position, but was denied both times by Juventus defenders. But just like in the first half, Juventus were not cowed. Ronaldo had a scorching effort pushed over the bar yet again by the excellent De Gea.
United continued to press forward, with much of the increased threat coming via the influence of Juan Mata. Mata had spent much of the first half shadowing Miralem Pjanić, but after the break, the little Spaniard was back to his primary job of probing with the ball and instigating attacks.
As he often does, Juventus old boy Paul Pogba was also growing in dominance in the second half. United’s closest effort was an angled shot from the Frenchman from outside of the box that cannoned first off the upright then off the head of Wojciech Szczęsny. The Reds were dominating possession, but lacked the nous to breakthrough the visitors’ rearguard.
United continued to fall short at the final hurdle, despite their improvement. Romelu Lukaku, in wretched form of late, was perhaps the worst culprit. Bizarrely, José Mourinho failed to make use of his substitutes bench. In the end, United battled hard, but the difference in quality told.