Marouane Fellaini saves Manchester United’s blushes against Young Boys to reach last 16

Manchester United 1-0 Young Boys: Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage-time strike, set up by a Romelu Lukaku flick-on, eventually saw a labouring United past a limited Young Boys side​

Mark Critchley
Old Trafford
Tuesday 27 November 2018 23:05
Jose Mourinho: We didn't play for a 0-0

Manchester United progress to the knock-out stages of this year's Champions League in most unconvincing fashion, though as Jose Mourinho triumphantly smashed a tray of drinks into the Old Trafford turf, he did not seem to mind much.

Marouane Fellaini's stoppage-time strike, set up by a Romelu Lukaku flick-on, eventually saw a labouring Mourinho's side past Young Boys, just as it appeared that United would fail to score in three straight home matches for the first time in this club's storied European history.

The frustration was beginning to visibly boil over, whether it was Marcus Rashford's shoulders dropping as he spurned yet another chance, Luke Shaw forcibly pushing Jean-Pierre Nsame off the pitch to speed up his substitution, or Mourinho himself, who stalked his technical area in a state of incandescent rage for much of the evening.

Yet then came Fellaini's winner, and there went the drinks bucket, body-slammed by a man who was, moments earlier, at the end of his tether with this team.

This late victory, combined Juventus' victory over Valencia, means United's final group stage game at the Mestalla in a fortnight's time is a dead rubber. Thanks to Fellaini, Mourinho and the rest of his players can look forward to the round of 16, even this underwhelming performance did not promise much more than that.

The night began well for United. They turned up. Having arrived to both this season's previous Champions League home matches behind schedule, that should not be taken for granted. Mourinho and his players avoided an unwanted hat-trick of tardiness, with the team bus rolling in an hour-and-a-half before kick-off.

However, despite the team being present and correct, the same could not be said for much of the home support. Pockets of empty seats were scattered all around Old Trafford after a struggle to sell this potentially-decisive Champions League group game, in what could easily be read as a sign of the times around of these parts.

Phil Jones takes a tumble during the first half

Those in attendance saw Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku dropped following their disappointing displays in Saturday's dour draw with Crystal Palace, while Alexis Sanchez was left out of the squad entirely.

In came the likes of Antonio Valencia - making his first appearance since the start of October - and Phil Jones - whose last kick of a ball was a crucial missed penalty against Derby County. Would these players provide the "heart" Mourinho has demanded?

United began with a greater intensity than on Saturday, perhaps, though still no structure through which to channel this energy. Opportunities came when Young Boys foolishly over-committed, rather than through United's own invention, and still then they were squandered.

Marcus Rashford tries to evade Young Boys defenders

When Rashford - starting up front - lifted an effort over David von Ballmoos' crossbar after being put clean through five minutes in, Mourinho turned to the crowd, folded his arms and shook his head in a dismay that bordered disgust.

Mourinho was similarly exasperated by Rashford's decision to shoot tamely at Von Ballmoos when Jesse Lingard was square for open goal. Rashford did better to connect with Lingard's neat flick some ten minutes later, but his dangerous attempt glanced wide of the far post.

A goalless first half meant United have scored just four times in the opening 45 minutes of their 13 Old Trafford games this season, two of those from the penalty spot, and when they re-emerged, Fellaini showed why they might need the referee's help to break the deadlock.

Shortly after Rashford had misfired once more, hitting the side-netting, Fellaini was presented with a gilt-edged opportunity after Von Ballmoos had failed to claim a high, dropping ball. The goal was gaping, but the Belgian blazed over.

Mourinho, normally a picture of concentrated and contained rage, was beginning to become visibly furious. With each mistake or miscue, he would fire more knowing looks towards his bench. Eventually, Lukaku and Pogba were summoned on.

Still for all United's possession, for all their sterile dominance, it was Young Boys who impressed most in the second half and who suddenly came within inches of scoring. David de Gea knew little about the Ulisses Garcia shot that deflected off Kevin Mbabu until he was clawing it away, just as it trickled menacingly towards his goal-line.

It was the sort of save that De Gea now produces with startling regularity, the sort he knows he has to make too often. Even he must sometimes wonder how sorry this United side would be if they could not count on his talents between their posts. With his contract effectively up in 18 months' time, we may all soon find out.

For now though, De Gea has United's back, so United often only need to get lucky once up front. In the first minute of added-on time, United rolled the only dice in their bag - a long, searching ball for Lukaku, who knocked the ball down into the penalty area. Fellaini took touch, turned and, with a swing of his right boot, sent a bucket of water bottles flying.

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