Wayne Rooney ended Manchester United’s 404-minute goal drought by the scoring the winner against CSKA Moscow on a night of high emotion at Old Trafford.
The United support had vented their frustration at the players when they sauntered off the pitch at halftime having failed to score again, and then Louis van Gaal got it in the neck for replacing Anthony Martial with Marouane Fellaini in the second half. The supporters booed loudly when the striker was substituted in the 66th minute, but soon after Rooney headed in to give United a valuable 1-0 win over the Russians.
Victory over PSV in three weeks’ time will put United into the knockout stages of the Champions League. That would be some achievement for Van Gaal’s team, who lost their first match against the Dutch side seven weeks ago. But the United manager still has a long way to go to prove his doubters wrong by pairing good results with enterprising, attacking soccer.
Rooney, at least, made his critics eat a slice of humble pie by scoring the winner. The captain’s first Champions League goal since September 2013 was a welcome one. He is now level with United’s second highest scorer Denis Law on 237 goals.
It was clear before kickoff United’s fans wanted a performance as well as a win here. The Stretford End yelled “attack, attack, attack” as the players came out and the hosts obliged initially. In the first 20 minutes there was no evidence of the “sideways, boring” football Paul Scholes accused United of in the BT studios before kick off. United threw everything at CSKA. Martial, playing up front, squared to Rooney, who dragged a volley narrowly wide. Daley Blind floated a 50-yard pass over CSKA’s defense, but Juan Mata could not steer the ball past Igor Akinfeev.
For a while it was like the good old days. The only thing that was missing was a goal. Mata danced into the box, and found Ashley Young, but Lingard blasted his shot over. Marcos Rojo rippled the side-netting. Despite their dominance, the United fans did not seem too happy. They repeated their demand for attacking football as the players walked off at the break.
United continued to waste chances after the restart. Rojo nodded a free header wide. Rooney tapped the ball into the net, but the cheers from behind the goal were ironic as the referee had blown for offside.
CSKA threw on dangerous striker Seydou Doumbia, who would have scored had David de Gea not collected Ahmed Musa’s cross just before the Ivorian could nod in.
Then in the 66th minute, there was outrage from the United fans when Van Gaal replaced Martial with Fellaini. Boos rang out when the board showing Martial’s number was raised by the fourth official. After the Frenchman had left the field, the United supporters sang his name before yelling “We’re Man United, we want to attack.” The message was clear – they were not happy with the substitution.
United continued to flounder in front of goal. Rooney could not get the ball out from underneath his feet with the goal gaping. At the other end Chris Smalling cleared off the line from Doumbia.
But then finally the breakthrough came. Michael Carrick floated a pass over the back four, Lingard squared first time and Rooney headed in before embarking upon a wild celebration in front of the Stretford End.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
Yessssss Wazza @ManUtd
— Andrew Cole (@vancole9) November 3, 2015
David de Gea: 8 (out of 10)
Ashley Young: 7
Chris Smalling: 7
Daley Blind: 7
Michael Carrick: 7
Bastian Schweinsteiger: 5
Jesse Lingard: 7
Juan Mata: 6
Anthony Martial: 6
Wayne Rooney: 6
Marouane Fellaini (on for Martial, 66mins): 5
Memphis Depay (on for Mata, 74mins): 5
Ander Herrera (on for Schweinsteiger, 89mins: 5
Igor Akinfeev: 7
Mario Fernandes: 6
Alexsei Berezutski: 7
Sergei Ignashevich: 6
Georgi Schennikov: 7
Pontus Wernbloom: 6
Bebras Natcho: 5
Zoran Tosic: 5
Alan Dzagoev: 5
Georgi Milanov: 6
Ahmed Musa: 7
Seydou Doumbia (on for Natcho, 55mins): 8
Alexandr Golovin (on for Tosic, 75mins): 5
Kirill Panchenko (on for Dzagoev, 85mins): 5
Jesse Lingard: Wasteful in possession at times, but deserves praise for taking risks and trying to take defenders on. His first-time square pass for Rooney’s goal was weighted to perfection.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Wayne Rooney’s goal: Rooney split the CSKA centre-halves perfectly to find space to nod in Lingard’s pass, which came after a brilliant ball into the box from Michael Carrick. The relief inside Old Trafford was palpable. United played with much more freedom after that.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Louis van Gaal’s decision to remove Anthony Martial and replace him with Marouane Fellaini went down like a lead balloon inside Old Trafford. United fans saw it as a negative move and had Rooney not scored, the Dutchman would have surely been booed when he went off the pitch. The United boss deserves praise for restoring Martial to his natural striking role, however. Van Gaal’s opposite number Leonid Slutski kept Seydou Doumbia on the bench until the early stages of the second half, which was surprising given that the Ivorian has such a good record in the Champions League, particularly against English sides.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
That substitution: Martial was not having the best of games, but he still looked by far the most dangerous player on the pitch. Fellaini added little when he came on to the pitch. Rooney should have come off instead, but Van Gaal says his captain is untouchable.
WHO’S UP NEXT
Manchester United vs. West Brom, Saturday Nov. 7
Goalscorer Rooney was pleased to break his recent goal drought and move level with Denis Law as Manchester United’s second-highest goalscorer with 237.
“It is difficult when teams come and defend with all their players, tough to break down,” he told BT Sport. “We had to keep grinding and digging, but we got the chance and the goal.
“A lot of teams nowadays defend deep with all their players and it is tough to break that down.
“We tried to get an early goal and once that doesn’t happen it becomes difficult, but we got the goal and the points and that is all that matters.”
On equaling Law’s record, Rooney added:
“Denis Law is a legend at this club, so I’m delighted to equal his record.
“We are top of the group now so it’s a big three points. We’ve got another big one coming up against PSV. Another win in that game and we will qualify.”
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