There are some problems not even Cristiano Ronaldo can solve. While his goal inside fifteen minutes gave Manchester United the lead, he was helpless as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side tried to see out the game and lost 2-1 to a late show from Young Boys.
Aaron-Wan Bissaka’s 36th minute sending off changed the complexion of what had been an open game. United looked comfortable but not unduly threatened, mostly limiting their hosts to potshots from outside the box, before the England right-back was dismissed for a studs-up challenge on Christopher Martins.
Young Boys had been good value before the red card. They pressed United relentlessly, and Meschack Elia was a constant threat down the left hand side in the early stages. He created Young Boys’ first real opening, evading Victor Lindelof before crossing, but none of his teammates could meet the ball.
Just when United fans nationwide were probably turning to the person next to them and remarking how quiet he’d been, Ronaldo saw fit to bless the game with his first touch. It was a classic striker’s finish to send the ball between the legs of keeper David von Ballmoos and into the net. Bruno Fernandes found his Portugal teammate with a superb outside-of-the-boot cross and Cristiano claimed his second nutmeg victim in a week, after finishing between Freddie Woodman’s legs on Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo gives Man Utd the lead at Young Boys! ⚽️
Three goals in two appearances. A fairytale return to the Red Devils so far!
The Swiss champions were undeterred, and continued to buzz around every United player in possession. Christian Fassnacht had the best chance of the early going, with a fizzing ground shot palmed away by David De Gea. United launched an immediate counter, which ended with Ronaldo forcing a save of his own from a powerful drive. The game had settled into an effervescent rhythm, which would soon be irrevocably halted.
Wan-Bissaka ran to close down Martins with a standing tackle, but led with his studs up, and they went crashing into the midfielder’s ankle. The referee was quick and decisive in showing the former Crystal Palace defender a straight red card, his first dismissal for Manchester United.
Jadon Sancho was sacrificed to bring right back Diogo Dalot on, the former Borussia Dortmund winger having endured a difficult evening. United endured a white-knuckle ride to make it to half-time. Fastnacht hammered a shot just wide, while Michel Aebischer blasted a volley over the bar. De Gea was once again called into action when Vincent Sierro tested him from distance.
Raphael Varane replaced Donny van de Beek at half-time, with Solskjaer making a concerted effort to set up more defensively, playing three at the back and tightening his midfield. Young Boys manager, former Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner, brought on striker Theoson Siebatcheu for midfielder Sierro, and the second half played out as a reflection of these substitutions. United sat back and tried to counter, while the Swiss side piled on the pressure.
After the hour-mark, the pressure told as an Elia cross was deflected just past Varane and into the path of Moumi Ngamaleu, who finished past De Gea. Solskjaer hooked Fernandes and Ronaldo, who began the evening linking up in majestic fashion and ended it trudging from the pitch in defeat, for Nemanja Matic and Jesse Lingard. The message from the United dugout seemed to be that they were playing for a point.
Young Boys smelled blood and pressed on in attack, swarming the United box. At points there appeared to be a queue of yellow shirts waiting to take their shot at the Spanish international between the sticks. The pick of the bunch was a long-ranger from Aebischer, with De Gea adjusting his body to tip it over the bar.
Much is always made of the Red Devils’ penchant for late drama, but it was the hosts who provided it at the death. United States international Siebatcheu could not believe his luck when Lingard played a horrendously sloppy backpass. Accepting the gift-wrapped ball from the England midfielder, he swiftly dispatched it into the United net.
The red card will colour much of the analysis of this game but credit is due to Young Boys. They played with incredible bravery, relentless pressing, and an energy that presented their illustrious opponents with problems all night long. Solskjaer gambled in banking on his defence to see the game out against a team playing this well, and will perhaps be ruing his mistake now.