Cristiano Ronaldo did nothing in 93 minutes. When the clock pointed to 94, he appeared to win the game. He scored the winning goal for United in a confusing, dirty action, a rebounded center that sent Villarreal to the canvas after a procedure that he had conducted with an irreproachable solvency.
“We are proud if we forget the result,” Emery said after the bitter outcome. The technician was not without reason. His Villarreal enjoyed one of his most bearable nights of this beginning of the season. Far from intimidating its players, the humid atmosphere of Old Trafford, with its solemn choirs in the stands and its majestic footballers on the grass, had an exhilarating effect on men like Parejo, Trigueros, Danjuma, Pino or Capoue, not to mention Albiol and Foyth, who neither feel nor suffer because they have been marking an insurmountable line for months, play in Villarreal, Gdansk, Belfast, Chamartín or San Blas.
Solskjaer watched the spectacle with the icy expression and glazed eyes of coaches who don’t know what to do to help their players in a crisis. No one can deny the Norwegian his magnanimous honesty. The flooding of the river was carrying away his team without remedy. It is no accident that they have lost three of their last four games – two against West Ham, one against Aston Villa and one against the Young Boys. Pogba and Bruno Fernandes face in each game a new problem that they have to solve blindly, without references, because United lacks order for everything. It neither attacks nor defends well.
Once the protocol of the Champions League anthem was fulfilled, the outburst of the first minute did not reach the English team or to annoy its rival. As Cristiano does not help to pressure and Jadon Sancho is not an enthusiast either, Albiol, Torres and Parejo were always free to go out playing and find Trigueros and Pino, who received between the puzzled lines of the opposition. Without McTominay and Varane deciding to move forward or backward, in front of De Gea there was chaos. When Trigueros enabled Danjuma, United’s alarm turned to panic. If Jadon Sancho is worth 85 million euros – the price United paid to Dortmund this summer – how much is Yeremi Pino worth? And Danjuma? The Dutchman left Dalot by skill and by force, on the left and on the right, and even with a pipe if it was done. His was the first shot of the match, and the second, in a succession of arrivals that revealed United’s tremendous doubts. By this time, at Old Trafford only a few small groups were singing in the middle of the silent crowd.
Stunned by the lack of coordination, the local players took a step back and the field lengthened for them. It was worse. If in the vicinity of the Rulli area there was no news of Cristiano, well guarded by his old colleague, Raúl Albiol, at the other end of the pitch United lived at the expense of David de Gea’s reflexes. Spanish had a job. Pino, Alcácer and Alberto Moreno had clear chances to open the scoring. It was Alcácer, in the center of Danjuma, who made it 1-0, a touch at the near post, after another opening perfectly coordinated by Trigueros.
Pau Torres: “The game was over”
The game entered the second half and the rain was wetting the field when Solskjaer reacted by removing Sancho to put in Cavani and Pogba to put in Matic. The first substitution reminded fans how inexplicable Cavani’s substitution is for the benefit of boys like Sancho or Greenwood, who live in perplexity. The second, cleared the nature of the coach, so little imaginative to offer solutions in attack as a conservative in case of difficulties.
Everything that United conquered was the product of push, the ardor of their fans, or chance, such as the tying goal. Álex Telles put it in from outside the area, at the exit of a lateral free kick launched by Fernandes.
Villarreal dominated on all fronts when, after game time, the captain asked for the change. The loss of Albiol, who suffered a muscle injury, was the worst possible sign for the Spanish team. If there is a man who instills serenity and security in Villarreal, that is his first center-back. Disappeared from the formation, the rear was in the hands of Pau Torres, a very fine player to move the ball but somewhat lukewarm in the performance of those activities that make the defense pure. Cristiano delved into that gap when in the 94th minute any center exploded to score a rebellious goal, of courage, of great value for United, which otherwise would have sunk to the bottom of Group F. Now the sunk is the Villarreal.
“It makes me angry because the game was over,” said Pau Torres, lamenting the 2-1 at Movistar’s microphones, on his way to the dressing room. He was wrong. The game was not over. He knew it, he always knows it, Cristiano Ronaldo, master of precision against Villarreal who was not able to achieve his remarkable dominance.