Fight­back at Juve gives United be­lief be­fore City derby

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - SPORTS -

LON­DON: Evok­ing mem­o­ries of their as­ton­ish­ing Cham­pi­ons League win in 1999, Manch­ester United breathed new life into a stut­ter­ing sea­son by im­prob­a­bly turn­ing around their match against Ju­ven­tus in the fi­nal five min­utes to win 2-1.

Not since the Nou Camp fi­nal of 1999, on ar­guably the club’s great­est-ever night, when the Red Devils scored twice in stop­page time against Bay­ern Mu­nich to com­plete the tre­ble, have United landed such a sucker punch on one of Europe’s true heavy­weights.

Turin was also the set­ting for United hero­ics that year as Alex Fer­gu­son’s side came from 2-0 down to beat Ju­ven­tus 3-2 in the sec­ond leg of the semi­fi­nal.

And while man­ager Jose Mour­inho was quick to point out the chasm that still ex­ists be­tween that United vin­tage and his cur­rent crop, this was just the boost he and his side needed be­fore fac­ing the re­lent­less force of Pre­mier League cham­pi­ons Manch­ester City Sun­day.

“When Manch­ester United had hero­ics here, Manch­ester United was the best team,” Mour­inho said af­ter Wed­nes­day’s win.

“[It] is a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion but it is a fan­tas­tic vic­tory for us. It’s not just about the points we lost at home, it’s about the feel­ing of how well we played.”

United had been out­classed by the Ital­ian cham­pi­ons on home soil two weeks ago, the 1-0 score­line barely a re­flec­tion of their dom­i­nance.

Mour­inho talked of de­fend­ers Gior­gio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci giv­ing classes at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity on how to de­fend, while United’s cen­ter-back Chris Smalling ad­mit­ted to be­ing in awe of Ju­ven­tus, the los­ing Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal­ists last year.

Cris­tiano Ron­aldo’s stun­ning first Cham­pi­ons League goal for the club had Ju­ven­tus four min­utes away from stretch­ing their un­beaten start to the sea­son to 15 games and book­ing their place in the last 16.

How­ever, for all of United’s trou­bles so far this sea­son, they do not lack fight, as Mour­inho’s men once again hauled them­selves off the can­vas to hit back in the fi­nal stages to take a huge step to­ward qual­i­fy­ing for the knock­out phase.

Hav­ing not made a sin­gle change at Old Traf­ford two weeks ago, Mour­inho’s sub­sti­tu­tions made a big im­pact.

Un­set­tled by the pres­ence of Marouane Fel­laini, Bonucci turned the ball into his own net for United’s win­ner af­ter Juan Mata’s per­fect free kick brought them level.

Af­ter over­turn­ing a 2-0 deficit against New­cas­tle to win 3-2 just be­fore the last in­ter­na­tional break, fight­backs have also helped Mour­inho so far ne­go­ti­ate a dev­il­ishly dif­fi­cult run of fix­tures that many be­lieved would be his last in charge.

Only a 96th-minute equal­izer for Chelsea pre­vented an­other come­from-be­hind win against Mour­inho’s for­mer side, while United also won late on at Bournemouth at the week­end af­ter what their man­ager de­scribed as a “chaotic” first-half per­for­mance. That never-say-die at­ti­tude will be needed for the derby Sun­day, with City av­er­ag­ing four goals a game at home in the Pre­mier League this sea­son.

“I want the feel­ing of, it doesn’t mat­ter where we go, we go to com­pete, and I think this is also a feel­ing that the Manch­ester United sup­port­ers around the world, they want to have,” Mour­inho said.

United’s fail­ure to fin­ish above City in any of the five sea­sons since Fer­gu­son’s re­tire­ment has been symp­to­matic of their slide from be­ing one of Europe’s pow­er­houses to sec­ond-best in their own city.

De­feat at the Eti­had would see them fall 12 points be­hind the league lead­ers af­ter just 12 games.

“I think it’s al­ways good to be the out­sider, so peo­ple ex­pect bad of us and then we sur­prise peo­ple,” United mid­fielder Paul Pogba said.

Hav­ing par­tied like it’s 1999, United need to dig deep again and show that in 2018 they can turn the tide against the blue half of City. –

United’s late surge was rem­i­nis­cent of the club’s days un­der Fer­gu­son 20 years ago.

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