Manchester United suffered a first defeat of the Champions League campaign as Italian superpower Juventus kept up their 100 per cent in Group H with a 1-0 win at Old Trafford.
Cristiano Ronaldo was given a warm reception on his return to the stadium he graced for six sensational years, but there was no goal this time for the former hero. That honour went to Paulo Dybala who tapped home in front of the Stretford End in the first half to score what eventually proved to be the winner.
And although Ronaldo and co couldn’t find another way past David De Gea, this was still a solid masterclass from the Serie A leaders and a bit of a lesson for United.
The Reds came into the European battle with confidence restored, following the thrilling second-half comeback against Newcastle United in the last home match before the international break and the impressive draw at Chelsea last Saturday.
Juventus were also in powerful form, both at home and abroad. This season they have recently set a club record of ten straight wins at the start of a season and are five points ahead in the Serie A race for the Scudetto. In the Champions League the Bianconeri have won both their group matches against Valencia and Young Boys.
Massimiliano Allergri’s side certainly started this match like a side having a barnstorming opening to the campaign. Despite dropping their first league points in Italy last Saturday, in the home draw in Turin with Genoa, they were on it from the first whistle at Old Trafford.
When Ronaldo first returned to the stadium, with Real Madrid in March 2013, he scored the winner to ruin Sir Alex Ferguson’s hopes of a grandstand finish in Europe. But before he settled down on that night, he was as nervous as a kitten and was overdoing the tricks in an effort to impress. This time around it was different. With a few Ballon d’Ors under his belt from the last five years, the now 33-year-old wasn’t overawed as he began this game in Juventus colours.
Despite Ashley Young and Chris Smalling handing out early ‘welcome back’ messages, the Portuguese superstar soaked it up and was vitally instrumental in Juve taking a 17th-minute lead.
Ronaldo crossed from the right and when Smalling and Cuadrado challenged at the near post, the ball squirted loose for Paulo Dybala to snap up the gift of a straightforward finish.
It was a difficult opening for the home fans as the Italians forced the Reds on the back foot.
Only an early Young free-kick, met by a Paul Pogba header, interrupted the flow of black-and-white traffic heading constantly towards the Stretford End.
David De Gea kept the score down with a double save in the 38th minute. The Old Trafford crowd had recognised the trademark gunslinger stance as Ronaldo lined up a free kick and as his shot twisted and turned in the air, the United goalkeeper read it but the power forced him to parry. Blaise Matuidi, following up, sent in a rasping effort but the Spaniard had his number as well and pushed the ball away to safety.
United had become a second-half team in the last two matches and the stadium was hoping the Reds might be able to respond after the interval. Juventus had other ideas, though, and the break did nothing to quell their superiority.
Once again it was thanks to De Gea that the Italians were still in reach. The ‘keeper got a touch on a typical Ronaldo thunderbolt after 52 minutes to stop the no.7 celebrating goal at Old Trafford again.
The Reds needed a spark and the fans needed something to get their teeth into to lift a side who were under the cosh. A spell of intensity from United raised the temperature but they still couldn’t really trouble former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and with experienced defensive warriors Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in front of him, a breakthrough was proving extremely difficult.
Former Juventus star Pogba almost shook his old club when he let fly with a long-range shot that came back off the base of the post and struck Szczesny before going out for a corner in the 74th minute.
United were only briefly at full tilt, however, and Juve couldn’t be breached with only a weak Anthony Martial low shot suggesting there might be a dramatic climax in the offing.
In the end Juventus proved just too strong and experienced on this stage for the Reds.
United: De Gea, Young (C), Lindelof, Smalling, Shaw, Matic, Pogba, Mata, Rashford, Martial, Lukaku
Subs not used: Romero, Bailly, Pereira, Fred, Herrera, Darmian, Chong.
Juventus: Szczesny, Cancelo (Costa 87), Bonucci, Chiellini (C), Alex Sandro, Bentancur, Pjanic, Matuidi, Cuadrado (Barzagli 81), Dybala (Bernardeschi 74), Ronaldo.
Subs not used: Perin, De Sciglio, Benatia, Kean.
Scorer: Juventus – Dybala (17)
Booked: United – Young. Juventus – Matuidi, Chiellini.
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