Cristiano Ronaldo marked his record-breaking 178th Champions League appearance with a 95th-minute winner as Manchester United snatched a 2-1 victory over Villarreal at Old Trafford.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner had barely threatened until he fired past Geronimo Rulli at the back post to ease the mounting pressure on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with virtually the last kick of the game.
United were staring down the barrel of another embarrassing group stage exit from the Champions League after deservedly falling behind early in the second half to Paco Alcacer’s smart finish.
Alex Telles’ stunning strike quickly levelled, but a sixth draw from open play in as many meetings between the sides was on the cards until Ronaldo’s late intervention.
Despite the result, there was little in the performance to quell the growing questions as to whether Solskjaer is the man to get the best out of a squad of supremely talented individuals that are yet to click as a collective.
Watch PSG superstars Messi, Neymar & Mbappé Live & Free with beIN SPORTS on Kayo Freebies. Join now & stream live instantly >
Solskjaer admitted Manchester United’s new signings have heightened trophy expectations after Gary Neville suggested the Norwegian was running out of time to deliver silverware.
United are still searching for their first trophy since Solskjaer took charge in 2018.
After a string of near-misses in the hunt for silverware, Ronaldo’s return added to over £100 million ($A187m) of investment in Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane means Solskjaer has to deliver this season.
Bruno Fernandes’ stoppage-time penalty that ended up in the Stretford End condemned United to a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday, but Solskjaer showed his backing for the Portuguese midfielder by handing him the captain’s armband in the absence of Harry Maguire.
Luke Shaw was also missing due to injury, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka was suspended after being sent off in the 2-1 defeat to Young Boys on matchday one.
A makeshift United defence looked as such in the first half as Villarreal wasted a host of chances to inflict more misery on the Red Devils after beating them in May to win the Europa League.
Arnaut Danjuma toyed with stand-in United right-back Diogo Dalot, but the Dutch winger firstly fired straight at David de Gea and was then denied by a brilliant finger-tip stop by the Spanish goalkeeper.
De Gea was the fall guy in the Europa League final as he was the only player of the 22 on both sides to fail to score in a marathon penalty shootout.
However, he has started the season in supreme form and was needed to save his side once more midway through the first half to turn Alcacer’s header over.
Alcacer then fired wide with just De Gea to beat after an error from Raphael Varane and botched a two-on-one counter-attack with a poor pass to Yeremi Pino.
United did not heed their first-half warnings as eight minutes into the second period another promising break from Danjuma finally got the finish it deserved as Alcacer prodded through the legs of De Gea at the near post.
Telles was at fault for the opening goal as he played Danjuma onside. But the Brazilian quickly made amends in spectacular fashion as he volleyed home Fernandes’ free-kick from outside the area.
Solskjaer had named an extremely offensive line-up with Ronaldo flanked by Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood, and Paul Pogba alongside Fernandes in midfield.
But it was another night to forget Sancho since his £73 million move from Borussia Dortmund in July.
The England winger was easily kept in check by Juan Foyth before being replaced 15 minutes from time by Edinson Cavani.
The Uruguayan had a golden chance to instantly make himself the hero, but somehow headed wide with the goal gaping from Greenwood’s perfect cross.
De Gea saved United once more five minutes from time in a goalmouth scramble to deny Moi Gomez and Boulaye Dia.
And Villarreal’s profligacy in front of goal came back to haunt them as the all-time top goalscorer in Champions League history showed them how to finish.
Jesse Lingard turned a loose ball Ronaldo’s way deep into stoppage time and his effort had too much power for Rulli.
EXECUTION MISSING AS CHELSEA GO DOWN TO JUVENTUS
Federico Chiesa proved to be a big game player once again with the only goal in Juventus’ 1-0 Champions League win over Chelsea which could kick-start their faltering season.
Sat 10th in Serie A after a succession of unconvincing performances domestically, Juve top Group H with a perfect six points thanks to a superbly taken winner seconds after half-time from Chiesa, one of Italy’s stars at Euro 2020.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side took down the European champions, despite missing starting forwards Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata, with a disciplined performance that sucked the life out of the Blues and restricted them to very little in front of goal.
The Blues had 16 attempts at goal against Juventus – the most they have had in a Champions League away game without socring since at least 2003-2004, when such data was first kept.
Chelsea dominated the ball in the early stages but it was the home side who had the first real chances of the game, both of which came after pouncing on sloppy passes in midfield.
Adrien Rabiot was barracked by the home crowd in the 16th minute when after sprinting away on a break with almost the entire Chelsea team still upfield, he elected to play a pass to Federico Bernardeschi which was completely mishit and rolled to Edouard Mendy.
Four minutes later it was Chiesa’s turn to show the Blues a clean pair of heels after pinching the ball, only for his low shot from a tight angle to drift just wide.
Juve’s gameplan of sitting in and stopping Chelsea from getting a passing rhythm going worked but they initially lacked a focal point and too often let off the hook a Chelsea team missing the dynamism of N’Golo Kante and Mason Mount.
However they got the goal they deserved immediately after the break through Chiesa, who has had an uncertain start to the season but confidently met Bernardeschi’s through ball to lash home the opener at the near post.
Chelsea responded by again pressing Juve back into their box but again struggled to break through the hosts’ well-drilled backline.
It was Juve who were wondering how Bernardeschi didn’t double their lead in the 64th minute when he tripped over his own feet with the goal at his mercy.
And they were breathing a big sigh of relief with six minutes left when after a prolonged spell of Chelsea dominance Romelu Lukaku thumped wide after being nicely set up by Mateo Kovacic.
The home crowd roared at the misfortunes of Lukaku, former striker at their fiercest rivals Inter Milan, and right after Kai Havertz headed over the bar let out another shout of joy at the final whistle.
BAYERN BLAST FIVE IN THRASHING
Robert Lewandowski scored twice for the second straight Champions League game this season as Bayern Munich cruised to a 5-0 home win over Dynamo Kiev.
Lewandowski claimed the 76th and 77th Champions League goals of his career as Bayern cantered into a two-goal lead at the break before Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting netted in the second half.
Lewandowski also hit a brace in the 3-0 drubbing of Barcelona a fortnight ago and, in total, he has scored 24 goals in his last 18 Champions League appearances to bolster his credentials for the Ballon d’Or award at the end of November.
The result means Bayern top Group E, two points clear of their next opponents Benfica, who beat Barcelona 3-0 in Lisbon on Wednesday.
BARCA HITS NEW LOW IN HEAVY LOSS
Barcelona suffered more European humiliation after a 3-0 defeat by Benfica left them in serious danger of failing to make it out of their Champions League group.
A hammering in Lisbon, which saw Darwin Nunez score twice, including a second-half penalty, also delivered another heavy blow to Ronald Koeman’s hopes of staying on as Barca coach.
Nunez’s double and a smart finish from Rafa Silva consigned Koeman’s team to a second consecutive 3-0 loss in Group E, after they were thrashed by the same scoreline at the hands of Bayern Munich earlier this month.
Koeman’s tactics will again come under scrutiny, with Gerard Pique substituted after just 33 minutes, seemingly to avoid picking up another yellow card, only for Eric Garcia to be sent off late on for a second booking.
Frenkie de Jong, Barcelona’s most creative player for the first half an hour, was also shifted into central defence to replace the departing Pique.
It is the first time since 2000 that Barcelona have lost back-to-back group games in the Champions League, which was also the last time the club failed to make the tournament’s knock-out stage.
They have a mountain to climb now to avoid the same fate, sitting bottom of the table, with Benfica four points ahead in second and a crunch game at home to Dynamo Kiev to come next month.
Mikel Arteta ignites Thierry Henry row as boss hits back at Arsenal legend's fiery claim
Man Utd ace Aaron Wan-Bissaka caught up in 'hippy crack' storm after London trip with pals
Mikel Arteta ignites Thierry Henry row as boss hits back at Arsenal legend's fiery claim
Travis Head wins the race to be Australia's No. 5 in the Ashes
Mithali Raj – We have had ‘good preparation’ for 2022 World Cup by playing SA, England, Australia this year
V8 Supercars, Cameron Waters, Tim Blanchard, co driver rant, news, updates, latest, live results
If Ben Roethlisberger retires, who’s the next Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback? – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog
The Ashes 2021-22 – Michael Vaughan stood down from BT Sport Ashes coverage after Azeem Rafiq allegations
The Hundred 2022 – ECB doubles Women’s Hundred salaries for 2022 edition
Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts (ankle) a game-time decision vs. New York Jets, sources say
Chicago Bulls’ Javonte Green tests positive for COVID-19, joins Coby White in protocols
Bathurst 2021, crash, V8 Supercars, S5000 Series, watch, video, latest updates, start time, how to watch
Cricket5 days ago
Recent Match Report – Warriors vs Braves 26th Match 2021/22
NFL2 days ago
Don’t call ’em trick plays
NBA6 days ago
Milwaukee Bucks signing center DeMarcus Cousins to non-guaranteed deal
NFL5 days ago
NFL Power Rankings Week 13
Cricket6 days ago
‘Cricket has a huge amount of learning to do’
NFL6 days ago
Rams’ Matthew Stafford finds Van Jefferson for 79-yard TD vs. Packers
NFL5 days ago
Cleveland Browns RT Jack Conklin out for rest of season because of torn patellar tendon
Soccer5 days ago
Ballon d'Or LIVE: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo among favourites for award