“He had barely touched the ball – but now Cristiano Ronaldo has fired United ahead! – I reckon you might want to set up a keyboard shortcut for that sentence this season,” says Chris Gibson.
I’ve got a few lined up, Chris. [paste] United have been unconvincing defensively, but Ronaldo’s early goal has them 1-0 up. [/paste]
28 mins: Ronaldo drops into midfield and starts a counter-attack with a swinging diagonal ball to Sancho. The winger takes a little too long to get his head up, and Ulisses Garcia does well to close down and intercept, with Pogba and Fernandes galloping into the box.
26 mins: United get a free kick 25 yards out. Ronaldo stays in the middle, with Bruno and Fred gathered over the ball. The attempted low ball into danger is cleared away.
25 mins: Straight down the other end we go, and Ronaldo races into the area. From a tight angle, he still stings the palms of Von Ballmoos with a vicious effort!
24 mins: Things are heating up now! Fassnacht is given too much time, lines up a shot from distance, and forces De Gea into an awkward low save, down to his right …
“On the Spanish feed in the states, they call Ronaldo ‘Mr Champion’,” notes Mary Waltz.
21 mins: Young Boys win a corner, which Sierro takes. It’s not dealt with and when it comes back in, Camara can’t get enough on his header!
“I play on astroturf myself with no issue, but already I’ve seen two United players slip in crucial moments,” notes Matthew Richman. No need to brag, etc. I do find it odd that a Champions League game can be played on artificial turf, but Sutton United had to get rid of their 3G pitch in order to play in League Two.
17 mins: There are away fans present here, after Covid travel restrictions threatened to keep them away. It was a nervous first 10 minutes, but that goal has understandably deflated the hosts a little.
Ronaldo’s prior United goal in the Champions League came more than 12 years ago – that’s another new record, for the longest gap between goals for the same club. He takes the record off Javier Zanetti, who still holds Most Consistent Haircut.
It was absolutely textbook late-era Ronaldo, made by Fernandes whose frankly outrageous cross, curled with the outside of the boot, landed to Ronaldo six yards out. His first-time shot slipped through the keeper’s legs, and just over the line!
GOAL! Young Boys 0-1 Manchester United (Ronaldo 13′)
He had barely touched the ball – but now Cristiano Ronaldo has fired United ahead!
12 mins: Elia picks up on a long ball and shimmies past Lindelof, before powering the ball across goal to no-one in particular. He had done the hard bit, but the cross was lacking.
10 mins: Fernandes canters into the box and tries to pick out Sancho, who has moved into central areas a couple of times already. Young Boys clear and Van de Beek fouls Ngamaleu as the winger tried to break away.
8 mins: It’s been a leisurely start, in keeping with the leisure-centre vibe of the playing surface.
5 mins: Fernandes prods a through ball on towards Sancho, but it runs through to the keeper. It looks like Pogba is on the left of midfield, with Van de Beek joining Fred in the centre.
3 mins: Oof! An early chance for the hosts as Sancho loses the ball in midfield. Meschack Elia gets Lindelöf isolated, twists and turns but drags a tricky shot beyond De Gea’s far post.
2 mins: The hosts are in black and yellow halves, while United wear their blue and white, early-90s-tinged away kit.
Here we go!
Both sets of players take a knee, met by applause from all sides of the ground. The referee, France’s François Letexier, then gets us under way.
The players are out and lined up for the Champions League anthem, which is partly obscured by another tune leaking through the PA. The Uefa suits will be livid. Behind the teams, the home fans form a snazzy wall of black and gold.
Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjær: “We had a good day, a professional day [on Saturday] but this is a new game. Coming from Norway, I’m used to the astroturf – the players have trained on it, I’ve got no complaints.”
On Van de Beek, he says: “We know what he’s capable of, he’s been working really hard over the summer. He’s stronger, fitter and we’re looking forward to seeing him in action.”
As if this wasn’t a tough enough assignment for the hosts, they are without a number of injured players including their captain, Fabian Lustenberger, and last season’s Swiss league top scorer, Jean-Pierre Nsame.
In Nsame’s absence, his Cameroon compatriot Moumi Ngameleu and DR Congo forward Meschak Elia will carry the goal threat, while winger Christian Fassnacht featured in Switzerland’s impressive Euro 2020 campaign.
United fans might recognise one name on the Young Boys bench – midfielder Alex Jankewitz, who was sent off after two minutes for Southampton as they lost 9-0 at Old Trafford in February.
Here’s today’s Fiver, on Big Cup and DJ Snake:
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Previously: United began their Champions League campaign on the artificial turf here back in 2018, when Paul Pogba scored twice in a 3-0 win. They finished second in the group, shocked PSG in the last-16 and then were well beaten by Barça in the quarters. Young Boys finished bottom of Group H but earned a memorable home win over … Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus. Him again!
Young Boys (4-2-3-1): Von Ballmoos (c); Hefti, Camara, Lauper, García; Sierro, Martins Pereira; Fassnacht, Aebischer, Ngamaleu; Elia.
Subs: Zbinden, Faivre, Zesiger, Spielmann, Kanga, Sulejmani, Jankewitz, Bürgy, Siebatcheu, Mambimbi, Maceiras, Rieder.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan Bissaka, Lindelöf, Maguire (c), Shaw; Fred, Van de Beek; Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Pogba; Ronaldo.
Subs: Heaton, Kovar, Bailly, Dalot, Varane, Mata, Matic, Lingard, Elanga, Greenwood, Martial.
The Manchester United team is in! Ronaldo starts in what looks like a 4-2-3-1, with Donny Van de Beek getting a shot in midfield – that will likely mean that Paul Pogba moves to the left, alongside Fernandes and Sancho. Victor Lindelöf starts in central defence, with Raphaël Varane on the bench. Team news for the hosts to follow …
Cristiano Ronaldo’s last Champions League appearance for Manchester United may still haunt him to this day. It was the 2009 final, when Lionel Messi and Barcelona wrestled the trophy away, completing the tiki-taka takeover and clearing the path for his inevitable exit to Real Madrid. Ronaldo won four European Cups in Spain, but his interminable battle with Messi for individual supremacy goes on.
Ronaldo starts tonight and moves level with Iker Casillas as the Champions League’s top appearance-maker, another individual bauble successfully pocketed. United lost another final to Barça in 2011, but haven’t been past the quarter-finals since. With Ronaldo back and their squad reinforced, this is a rare season where a run to the latter stages feels like a realistic target.
The long road to St Petersburg starts here against Young Boys, the Group F outsiders who won the Swiss league by 31 points last season. They also lost manager Gerardo Seoane to Leverkusen, replaced by a familiar face to English audiences in David Wagner. The former Huddersfield manager has form when it comes to upsetting United, who have not always enjoyed their trips to Switzerland.
Ronaldo’s time at Juventus was judged on their Champions League failings, so his return to Old Trafford automatically raises the bar – now United must avoid clattering into it. With the always dangerous Atalanta and Europa League conquerors Villarreal also in the group, United will be keen to make a strident start. Kick-off at the Wankdorf Stadium (no giggling at the back) is at 6.45pm local, 5.45pm BST.