United’s Swiss roll Young Boys savour win after Wan-Bissaka’s red
It was 20 minutes after the final whistle but nobody in yellow and black was going anywhere: not the players, not the staff and certainly not the 30,000 Young Boys fans, who jumped and stamped and rejoiced in a victory that will go down as one of their greatest ever. Meanwhile, in the opposite corner of the stadium, the last small sliver of Manchester United fans was filtering towards the exits, a night of indignities and humiliations finally complete.
A draw would have been fine. Annoying perhaps, especially after scoring early, but certainly manageable in the long term. And for all their bungling and blundering, a draw was what United had secured as the ball rolled towards Jesse Lingard in the fifth minute of injury time. But inexplicably Lingard decided to play the ball straight into the path of Young Boys substitute Jordan Siebatcheu, and in a twinkling United were defeated. They are now – already – in a scrap for qualification.
The celebrations in this sleepy Swiss city went long into the night but for a depleted and distracted United this was a reminder that for all their shiny new talent, some familiar old failings remain. After an early goal from Who Else?, you would have got pretty long odds on United playing out a good portion of the second half with a mystified Lingard as their lone striker. But Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s first-half red card changed the game, leading Ole Gunnar Solskjaer down a puzzling road of substitutions and tactical shifts that often looked as though they were confounding his own players.
Afterwards Solskjaer blamed the artificial surface at the Wankdorf for tiring his players out but there were more obvious scapegoats everywhere you looked: Wan-Bissaka, Lingard, a midfield that seemed to collapse in on itself as the game went on. Even the feted Cristiano Ronaldo offered almost nothing beyond his goal and, though you might argue this is pretty much the point of Ronaldo these days, Solskjaer was right to withdraw him in the 72nd minute, even if the decision to replace him with Lingard rather than Mason Greenwood or Anthony Martial was bizarre.
In a sense Solskjaer had taken a calculated gamble here, sacrificing a little midfield cover in the confidence that sheer weight of attacking talent would eventually overwhelm. Ronaldo’s goal, the product of a cheeky cross from Bruno Fernandes and a trademark Ronaldo run to the back post, appeared to bear him out. But even before the red card David Wagner’s impressive young side were enjoying plenty of counter-play, feasting on the spaces behind what was in effect a United front five, enjoying chances through Christian Fassnacht and Michel Aebischer.
Then came the dismissal and, while a more lenient official might have let it slide, United could have few complaints. Wan-Bissaka lost the ball with a poor touch and lunged a little too enthusiastically at the loose ball in response. No sooner had his studs indented Christopher Martins’s ankle than the French referee, François Letexier, was readying the red card. So began the third phase of the game, in which Jadon Sancho was hooked for Diogo Dalot and United settled into a compact 4-4-1.
Before the red card United had enjoyed 66-34 possession. After it Young Boys dominated 72-28, and, though the introduction of Raphaël Varane for the watery Donny van de Beek and a shift to 5-3-1 gave United control of their own penalty area, their inefficiency on the ball handed the home side control of everywhere else. Ronaldo was not helping: early in the second half he threw himself to the ground, threw himself to the ground again when he realised he would not be getting a penalty, and thereafter played in the sort of prize funk that either ends in a spectacular 30-yard bicycle kick or – as here – a series of ever-more-elaborate dives.
The equaliser was coming, and it arrived from Moumi Ngamaleu sneaking ahead of Varane to bundle in Meschack Elia’s deflected cross. Again Solskjaer rang the changes. Off came Ronaldo, who had basically been faffing about since about the 50th minute. Off came the waning Fernandes, with Lingard and Nemanja Matic replacing them in an attempt to replace guile with industry.
With three minutes left David de Gea made a great save from Sandro Lauper’s long-range shot and, for all their guts and gumption, the home side looked to have blown themselves out.
But with virtually the last action of the game Lingard played a terrible backpass, Siebatcheu tucked past De Gea and in the most dramatic of circumstances Young Boys had snatched the points. “That’s football at the highest level,” Solskjaer argued. “Lack of concentration, make a mistake and you get done.” There is plenty of time, of course, for United to learn their lessons. But for now this star-studded new team has hit its first bump in the road.