Marouane Fellaini netted in stoppage time to secure Manchester United’s spot in the Champions League last-16, courtesy of a 1-0 victory against Young Boys.
Jose Mourinho’s side had laboured throughout the game against the Swiss champions at Old Trafford and looked set for a second consecutive goalless draw at home until Fellaini’s smart finish.
Indeed, it could have been worse for United had David de Gea not produced a stunning reaction save to keep out a deflected effort from substitute Ulisses Garcia in the second half.
The result, coupled with Valencia’s 1-0 defeat to Juventus, means the Red Devils join the Italians in booking a spot in the knockout phase with one group game to spare.
Mourinho had threatened to make changes to the team that drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace and followed through, with Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku benched and Alexis Sanchez left out of the squad.
Marcus Rashford led the attack and spurned four decent first-half opportunities with poor finishes, the worst of which saw him lifting the ball over goalkeeper and crossbar when put through one on one by Jesse Lingard.
Fellaini blazed over after some poor goalkeeping from David von Ballmoos early in the second half, but United were otherwise looking toothless in the final third as they surpassed their club record of 231 minutes without a goal at home in the competition, set back in 1996-97.
Mourinho introduced Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba from the bench, and the latter set up Rashford for another half-chance the striker sliced wide, before De Gea somehow clawed the ball off his line after Garcia’s shot went through a crowded box.
United fans were already heading for the exits when Fellaini at last gave them something to cheer, collecting Lukaku’s flick-on and firing across goal and into the bottom-left corner from 12 yards one minute into added time.
What does it mean? United hobbling to the knockouts
This was billed as a chance for United to kickstart an improvement in performances, but the standard of their play after a bright opening 15 minutes was arguably the worst they have produced all season.
Fellaini’s finish was clever and timely, but the result was scarcely deserved and will do little to quieten the dissenting voices around Old Trafford, who must fear the worst in the next round if their side do not improve quickly.
Young Boys were already out of contention for the last 16 and cannot now finish third and drop into the Europa League, but their boisterous travelling fans will be proud of their efforts in a very difficult Group H.
Jones offers some light relief
Phil Jones marked his first Champions League match of the season with an assured display, even if he did not have much defending to do. One timely challenge stopped a four-on-four counter-attack in the first half, and he even started a couple of attacks himself. He looks ready to fill in for the injured Victor Lindelof.
Rashford’s quality does not match endeavour
Rashford certainly could not be accused of not giving his all, and he started two of United’s most promising moves with terrific runs from deep, but his abject finishing was summed up by his fifth-minute miss, one of six attempts that did not produce a goal.
Key Opta Facts:
– United had gone a club record 275 minutes without a home goal in the Champions League before Fellaini’s late strike.
– His goal was the first 90th-minute winning strike for United in the Champions League since Cristiano Ronaldo vs Sporting CP in November 2007.
– Young Boys had 11 shots in this match, but did not manage to get a single one on target.
– Manchester United mustered 21 shots in this match, but only four of these were on target.
– Lukaku had just nine touches in his 26-minute sub appearance, but one of these was the assist for Fellaini.
Before United head to Valencia on December 12 with first place in the group still a possibility, they face three Premier League games against Southampton, Arsenal and Fulham.
Young Boys meet Basel and Thun before hosting Juventus in their last European match of the season.
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