Three thoughts from the J Stadium as two late goals gave Man United a 2-1 win Wednesday at Juventus.
1. Heroic United stun Juve with late fightback
Manchester United turned the clock back to 1999 by turning defeat into victory against Juventus with a dramatic late victory in Turin.
Juan Mata’s 86th-minute free kick and an Alex Sandro own goal in the final minute gave Jose Mourinho’s team a crucial win against the Italian champions, which could see United qualify for the Champions League knockout stages with a home victory against Young Boys later this month.
Nineteen years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s Treble winners overturned a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 in Turin, Mourinho’s men showed similar fighting spirit to win this game. It had appeared to be lost after Cristiano Ronaldo, kept quiet by United for the majority of the game, made his one decisive contribution when, in the 65th minute, he volleyed Leonardo Bonucci’s long pass beyond goalkeeper David De Gea to register his first Champions League goal of the season.
The goal looked to be enough to win the game and secure top spot and qualification for the knockout stages with two games to spare for Massimiliano Allegri’s team. But Mata hauled United level with his free kick before Sandro bundled in Ashley Young’s late, in-swinging set piece.
United had been unfortunate to fall behind to Ronaldo’s goal, and a draw would have been a fairer result on the night. Yet with Juve hosting Valencia later this month, a win for the Italians combined with a United victory against Young Boys at Old Trafford will ensure both clubs make it into the round of 16.
2. Sanchez states his case to play through the middle
Alexis Sanchez has been a major disappointment in a Manchester United shirt since arriving from Arsenal in January, with not even his staunchest supporter able to suggest any different. But one argument in the Chile international’s defence is that he’s not been handed the chance to play on his best position by Mourinho.
Mourinho has consistently stuck with Romelu Lukaku as his centre-forward, choosing instead to use Sanchez out wide, but with Lukaku injured, Sanchez was given his chance through the middle against Juventus and he impressed. It was clear at times that his confidence is still low: After all, he entered Wednesday’s game having scored just four times in 27 appearances, and his appearances this season have been sporadic at best.
But Sanchez offers totally different qualities to Lukaku, and they were on show in Turin. Lukaku is one-dimensional, a classic striker in the sense that his first thought is always to head for goal. Sanchez, meanwhile, is more prepared to assess his options, hold up the ball and bring teammates into play. There was more of a thread between United’s attacking players against Juve than there is when Lukaku plays.
Lukaku’s injury means he is a doubt for Sunday’s trip to Manchester City, so Sanchez might get another outing at the Etihad. He still needs to sharpen his fitness and intensity, but if he gets the game time, Sanchez can still be the big-game player Mourinho expected him to be when he signed him.
3. Pogba goes missing back “home”
Paul Pogba really wanted to own the stage back on his old turf with United against Juventus, but he went missing again Wednesday night
Having spoken bullishly in the prematch news conference about his form, happiness and United’s prospects of winning a major trophy, Pogba was applauded back to Turin by the Juventus fans before the game. But two years after leaving in an £89 million move to United, Pogba did little justify his fee or make the Juve fans yearn for his return.
This was Pogba on one of his bad days. He failed to track Juventus runners and he was poor in possession. He really should have approached the game determined to show his old fans what they were missing, but he was simply swallowed up Juve’s midfield of Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira and Rodrigo Bentancur.
Pogba has talent, that is without question. He has won big honours for club and country and can be a game-changer, but fails too often to deliver. His late involvement in Sandro’s own-goal winner for United wasn’t enough to make Pogba stand out.
It is on nights like these that Pogba should demand to be centre of attention, but he was a bit-part player again.