Football Features

“Embarrassing” Man Utd architects of their own Champions League downfall with shades of 2011/12

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:23, 3 October 2023 | Updated: 9:48, 5 October 2023

Manchester United twice gave up the lead as they lost 3-2 to Galatasaray at Old Trafford in the Champions League.

The Red Devils went into the game in a poor run of form, losing four of their last six games across all competitions. Two of those defeats had come at Old Trafford, including the 1-0 loss against Crystal Palace at the weekend.

Man Utd also lost their opening game of the Champions League group stage, falling 4-3 to Bayern Munich in what was a thrilling match. On top of off-field issues, pressure has been mounting on Erik ten Hag to turn things around, particularly before the international break.

Against Galatasaray, things got off to a good start with Man Utd looking bright and they were ahead in the 17th minute as Rasmus Hojlund headed in from Marcus Rashford’s fast cross. Having also netted against Bayern, Hojlund is just the third player to score in his first two Champions League games for Man Utd after Dimitar Berbatov and Romelu Lukaku.

Man Utd’s lead lasted less than 10 minutes, though, and it was a very unsurprising goalscorer. The Red Devils were undone by a long ball over the top from Davinson Sanchez into Wilfried Zaha, who won the battle of strength against Diogo Dalot. There was a bit of fortune as his effort deflected in off Dalot, bouncing over Andre Onana, but the Portuguese full-back was far too weak in holding Zaha off.

Zaha, who also netted for Galatasaray at the weekend, has now scored four goals in his last five matches against Man Utd.

Man Utd responded well and tested the Galatasaray defence on a few occasions, including when Rashford raced through on goal with just Fernando Muslera to beat. But he dithered a bit too long and opted to pass to Bruno Fernandes, which was intercepted and the move petered out.

Just a few minutes later, Hojlund found himself in a similar situation and he made no mistake, finishing it for his third Champions League game of the season. The Dane capitalised on a defensive slip from Sanchez, showing power and pace from the halfway line before dinking over Muslera.

But again, Man Utd’s lead was short-lived, this time lasting only five minutes. Man Utd failed to deal with a Galatasaray throw-in, and no one tracked Kerem Akturkoglu’s run into the box, allowing him to take the ball in his stride and finish.

The wheels fully came off when Onana passed the ball straight to Dries Mertens inside his own box, forcing Casemiro to bring the Belgian down for a penalty. Unfortunately, it also caused Casemiro’s second yellow, reducing Man Utd to 10 men.

Mauro Icardi stepped up to take the spot kick, one week on from his terrible miss as Galatasaray tried a clever penalty. While this one was more orthodox, it was the same result with Icardi sending his shot wide of the left post.

But Man Utd’s reprieve was short-lived as Icardi got onto the end of Sanchez’s header, played clearly onside by Sofyan Amrabat to dink the ball over Onana and secure Galatasaray’s first Champions League win in five years.

It means Man Utd have lost their first two Champions League group stage games in a season for the first ever time. It’s also the first time they have failed to win their first two Champions League group stage matches since 2011/12, when they drew against Benfica and Basel. Then, they bowed out at the group stage, only recording a pair of wins against Otelul Galati, dropping into the Europa League.

Former Man Utd defender Rio Ferdinand was scathing in his criticism of the Red Devils, dubbing it embarrassing.

“I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions tonight,” he told TNT Sports.

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“One minute, I’m sitting there going, ‘wow, we look like a team, we’re showing potential, something to be positive about’. And all of a sudden, I’m sitting there with my head in my hands, thinking ‘wow’.

“An absolute lack of organisation at times, we’ve got experienced players through the middle of this team and there’s no organisation defensively. We scored goals, and at that moment, you’re told as a kid as well, that’s when you’re at your most vulnerable. That’s when you’ve got to be your most concentrated. And we go to sleep.

“We’re being cut open like a hot knife through butter at times and it’s embarrassing. And this is the Champions League. This isn’t like we’re playing school football or anything, this is the Champions League, and some of the mistakes you’re seeing… Not even sometimes mistakes, just like a lack of positional, spacial awareness, a lack of seeing danger and smelling danger.

“At this level you’re going to get punished and they were tonight.”