Eni Aluko – The Guardian
United’s Champions League thriller at Juventus was memorable and not just for another Cristiano Ronaldo special
A definite perk of living in Turin and playing for Juventus is being able to go and watch games at the Allianz Stadium. Champions League nights are extra special with the Champions League music and heightened atmosphere among the fans. Attending the Juventus against Manchester United game on Wednesday certainly lived up to a great night.
I was expecting a Juventus win, with the team in very good form. Manchester United have had their problems this season but their surprise victory was the kind of performance you used to associate them with in the Champions League in terms of not playing very well but winning in the last five minutes. After doing the same against Bournemouth last weekend, this could be a turning point for them and their manager, José Mourinho.
I thought Juve were very unfortunate to lose after looking great in possession and dangerous around the box, but as soon as Juan Mata stepped up to take that free-kick I had a feeling it was going in. Mata is a genius in those type of situations and after that Juventus looked unsettled.
Again the back pages are dominated by Mourinho’s provocative behaviour at the end. There you have United winning, playing really well towards the end, but all the focus is still on what the manager did after the game. I think some of the media became distracted with the sideshow antics rather than focusing on the fact Manchester United just beat Juventus, which is probably their best victory under Mourinho thus far.
United kept possession very patiently but without Romelu Lukaku did not have a clear threat up front. They looked comfortable on the ball, with Luke Shaw and Ashley Young often staying behind the play in the first half, but they did not really have a shot on goal. Alexis Sánchez came deeper to get possession so there was no obvious threat to Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini at the back either.
Juventus, on the other hand, looked dangerous every time they went forward thanks to the link-up play between Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala. I went to Ronaldo’s home debut for Juventus and it just wasn’t quite happening back then – he looked like he just needed a goal to get him started. His effort on Wednesday – the pass from Bonucci, the run from Ronaldo and then to volley the ball as it was coming over his head – was just unbelievable. Another great goal in the Champions League for Ronaldo, and he seems to be collecting them at the Allianz Stadium after the unforgettable overhead kick for Real Madrid there last season.
I watched the game with all my Juventus teammates and we were talking about whether he should have celebrated scoring against his former club. It’s been nine years since Ronaldo left United so although there is a respect there, you can’t score a goal like that and not celebrate. It was very Ronaldo to take off his shirt and show off his 20-pack!
Paul Pogba’s return did not quite go so well against his former club and he again struggled to show his best form. I don’t buy into the view that he is not a big-game player – you only have to look at his performance in the World Cup final to see that he is. But even so United won and that was a good sign. I think Anthony Martial has been very important for them recently because he gives them the ability to get past players and supplies a finisher’s touch up front.
I’m not sure whether Lukaku’s absence has affected their approach, but Sánchez definitely offers something different when he plays in the striker role. With Lukaku they are more inclined to play direct, whereas Sánchez is really good at dropping deeper and linking up with the midfield and wingers.
There’s an expectation that a club like United should get through in the Champions League every season and it looks as if they are going to qualify for the last 16. It’s a very open competition this year with several teams capable of going all the way, especially with the holders, Real Madrid, lacking Ronaldo. I’m not sure United have what it takes, but you never know.
Regardless of how well they are playing, however, it’s going to be very tough for them against Manchester City on Sunday. City have scored 12 goals in their last two matches and are in unbelievable form, with Riyad Mahrez showing why he was right to leave Leicester and join a bigger club.
He’s an artist who plays the game with so much class but he also has that cutting edge, as well as unbelievable feet and balance. I’ve been really impressed with how he has managed to force his way into Pep Guardiola’s plans.
United will be confident but I’m not sure Mourinho is the type of manager who will go for it at the Etihad. I can see him setting up the side defensively and trying to get something from the game. If they can show the patience they did against Juventus then it could be a good day for his team.
It was a disappointing week for Juventus Women as we were beaten 3-0 by Milan on Sunday. They are going to be big rivals as we try to retain the title so it was a tough defeat to take. We are not putting in consistent performances at the moment but there’s still a long way to go and we still have a chance of pulling it back. I have always felt it is better to lose earlier on in the season than at the end of a title race, because you have time to find the fire to win again and catch up. Lots of work to do – it is a marathon not a sprint.