New stars, old problems for Man United in the Champions League
Posted On September 15, 2021
Missing the knockout stages of the Champions League for a third consecutive season is unthinkable with Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Manchester United
Through GRAHAM DUNBAR AP Sports Writer
September 15, 2021 at 9:06 AM
• 3 minutes to read
BERNE, Switzerland – With Cristiano Ronaldo back at Manchester United, it is unthinkable to miss the knockout stages of the Champions League for a third consecutive season.
Yet the same sort of problems have been carried over from last season’s failed campaign to one that started badly on Tuesday in Switzerland – defensive errors and disciplinary lapses leading to an untimely red card.
Even new signings Ronaldo and Raphael Varane – four-time Champions League winners together at Real Madrid – couldn’t save the stellar and costly Man United side from defeat to unannounced Young Boys.
Instead, it was another 2-1 loss to the lower ranked team in its group.
“We did it last year in Europe,” said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, recalling “two botched counterattacks against (Istanbul) Başakşehir. And we lost this game (Tuesday) in the dying seconds. . “
A limp back pass in stoppage time from Jesse Lingard, a replacement who replaced Ronaldo, gave US forward Jordan Siebatcheu the chance to win the game for the Young Boys.
“This is football for you at the highest level,” said Solskjaer. “Lack of focus, make a mistake and you get punished.”
Premier League leaders were under pressure from the 35th minute when defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off for a serious foul. Leading 1-0 on Ronaldo’s 13th-minute goal, Man United failed to shoot on goal the rest of the way.
The red card helped keep the game away from the triple European champions, just like last year when midfielder Fred was sent off against Paris Saint-Germain. This turned a balanced game into a 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford last November and returned the early group’s gains by winning in Paris.
“Everyone thought we were done after two games last year,” recalls Solskjaer, whose side also beat Leipzig 5-0 last October and then lost the final decisive group game in Germany.
The history of Solksjaer’s management in the Champions League has been its ups and downs with little common ground. His team have triumphed twice at PSG – including in the round of 16 in March 2019 – but have now lost seven of 11 matches.
“We know that we have given ourselves a more difficult task than what we did last year,” said Solskjaer. “You need 10, maybe 12 points. You have to win your home games. We have two next home games and we have to focus on them. “
The next opponent on September 29 is a Villarreal side coached by Unai Emery who are unlikely to be intimidated after beating Man United in the Europa League final in May.
Ronaldo has never played in the Europa League for Man United, Real Madrid or Juventus. He played two games in his predecessor, the UEFA Cup, in 2002 when he was a 17-year-old for Sporting Lisbon.
Now, with a record-breaking 135 Champions League goals in 177 games, Ronaldo has time to get his teammates back on track in a competition he helped the club win in 2008.
“It’s fortunate that this is the group’s first game,” United captain Harry Maguire said, “and we have plenty of time to bounce back.”
More AP football: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports