What was shaping to be another Champions League defeat for Manchester United turned into enthusiastic scenes at Allianz Stadium. José Mourinho’s Red Devils, who couldn’t muster a win against bottom-of-the-table West Ham United in September, secured three well-deserved points against Juventus in Turin.
It was a confident first 45 minutes for United, as they battled Massimiliano Allegri’s men. The Red Devils showed glimpses of improvement at the back, and made all attempts to capitalize up front. While the first half of the match was anything but impressive, fans of both sides were treated to an entertaining finale.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s Champions League victory over Juventus in the group stages.
Defense showing signs of vitality
Although nervy at times, the defense performed well enough to keep a clean sheet going into the half. While their form is nowhere near the level required to compete against other Champions League contenders, there was a sense of urgency for Mourinho’s back four. Because of some early missteps made by the midfield three, United’s defense looked overworked and tired halfway through the opening half. Yet, they persisted, even while almost conceding goals from midfielders Juan Cuadrado and Sami Khedira. Victor Lindelöf was especially great, and possibly the type of centre-back who could continue to improve under Mourinho’s mentorship.
Only a Mata of time
When he’s not drafting inspirational posts for the United blog, Juan Mata can be found sinking absolute screamers from the outside the box. The Spaniard came on for Ander Herrera in the 79th minute, and seven minutes later put United level with The Old Lady. Thanks to a clever run by Ashley Young, keeper Wojciech Szczesny was pulled to the left, which provided an opening for the winger to find the back of the net.
Those kinds of plays resemble an old school Manchester United, where there is some strategic thought behind set pieces. While they have been unlucky with scoring off free kicks more than they have been successful this year, that masterstroke was somewhat reminiscent of the United supporters are used to watching. Given the implications of last night’s results on the future of their Champions League campaign, Mata’s strike could not have come at a more significant moment.
Fergie Time is back
It seems as though Mourinho has finally finished the final chapter of Sir Alex Ferguson’s blueprint, and that’s on come-from-behind victories in Fergie Time. This 2018/19 campaign alone, United have secured points from comeback wins more than any other Premier League side, which remains a testament to their reputation as being the masters of resurgence. Not only does this point to massive character development for a team who have been down on their luck as of late, but also an attitude of persevering through whatever circumstance. You can attribute it to the absence of Romelu Lukaku or the return of Anthony Martial to the starting XI, but the final 15 minutes in last night’s performance were some of the finest United have played in European football since Sir Alex’s retirement. While there are still several areas that need attention and improvement, this triumph is a convenient starting point.
With the Manchester derby next, this win was equally necessary and emphatic. While Sunday’s match has many wondering if Manchester United can outplay their neighbors at the Etihad, a statement win against Paul Pogba’s former side makes quite the case.