Own goal seals famous Manchester United comeback win at Juventus

This was surely Manchester United’s finest victory under José Mourinho. To leave Turin with three points after a breathtaking comeback having appeared to be heading for certain defeat vanquishes any doubt that his players wish to perform for their Portuguese manager.

At the end Mourinho enjoyed the moment, cupping an ear to Juventus fans after they had taunted him during the 1-0 defeat in the reverse Group H fixture a fortnight ago and throughout this game. This drew the ire of some Juve players, with Leonardo Bonucci appearing the closest to him but the United manager will hardly mind: that was classic Mourinho in the same way this smash-and-grab victory came straight from his playbook.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s sweetly struck 65th-minute volley that broke a five-match Champions League drought had moved him to celebrate against his former team and seemed set to give Mourinho the task of picking his side up ahead of Sunday’s derby at Manchester City.

Instead he refused to buckle, and throwing on the pairing of Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini with 11 minutes remaining proved a masterstroke. As he did with the opener in the comeback victory over Newcastle United last month, Mata struck with a superb free-kick, beating Wojciech Szczesny from 20 yards and, with four minutes, remaining United were level. Better was to come.

Fellaini made a nuisance of himself under a high ball, Paul Pogba tried to make contact, and in went the winner off Bonucci and then Alex Sandro. When the final whistle blew seconds later, United were heading for a jubilant trip home.

Sign up for the Fiver, our free daily football email.

Mourinho had made two changes from Saturday’s win at Bournemouth, selecting Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard for Fred and Marcus Rashford. With second place still being in their hands even if they lost, their manager had said he would approach this game as a quasi-free hit but, privately, he surely gave his players the opposite instruction.

It was a far brighter opening half showing from Mourinho’s team than in that fortunate win at Bournemouth. Juventus were prepared to concede space for their visitors to ping the ball around and this allowed them to settle.

This spell was broken when Victor Lindelöf skied a regulation clearance near his area and the error was compounded by the ball being allowed to bounce, so ceding it to Paulo Dybala.

Juan Mata equalises for Manchester United with a brilliant free kick in the 86th minute.
Juan Mata equalises for Manchester United with a brilliant free kick in the 86th minute. Photograph: PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images

United were as relieved to scramble clear as Juventus were when Nemanja Matic’s clever lobbed pass into Alexis Sánchez narrowly failed to deliver. When Luke Shaw was beaten for a second occasion – down Juve’s right – Juan Cuadrado’s shot deflected off Matic and David de Gea had to be sharp to react and proved up to the task.

Juventus had upped their game and United were clinging on. Sami Khedira saw his effort ricochet from De Gea’s right-hand post and so the last thing required was some Pogba sloppiness: yet he conceded possession in a central area, Juve roved downfield, Miralem Pjanic’s attempt went for a corner, and from this eventually Dybala shot. When the Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan blew for the break it was United who welcomed it.

A case of so-far so-good for United continued when the second half started with Mourinho’s men attacking via an Anthony Martial shot that flew wide of Szczesny’s left post. Dybala showed better though not telling precision when his shot crashed back off De Gea’s crossbar, the goalkeeper furious with a defence that allowed the Argentinian too long to take aim.

Juventus were far more menacing than United when in on goal as Pjanic illustrated with a surge down the right that had United defenders back-pedalling. A neat United approach involving Lingard and Sánchez foundered when the centre-forward’s backheel proved wasteful. Still, two successive corners a few seconds later was at least time spent at the right end of the pitch.

Just when United were beginning to genuinely threaten at last, Ronaldo pounced. A fine ball over the top of the defence from Bonucci was met with the cleanest of strikes, a volley which flashed beyond a helpless De Gea.

Juventus came close to doubling the lead when De Gea repelled a Pjanic shot and Cuadrado hit his effort over the crossbar. Those misses proved very costly when their lead evaporated in the closing moments. United will surely relish a trip across Manchester at the weekend to try and dismantle the champions as they did – via another come-from-behind win – in last season’s meeting at the Etihad Stadium.